How To Become A Firefighter In Kentucky

For those aspiring firefighters living in the Bluegrass State, how to become a firefighter in Kentucky is a question commonly asked. 

The commonwealth of Kentucky, as it is often known, is a state famous for its culture and landscape. Some of the best of America’s folk music, racehorses and alcoholic beverages come from the rural communities of Kentucky.

There is a lot of history and heritage to protect from fire, flood and other disasters, so naturally Kentucky needs the very best firefighters training in its academies and colleges running its fire stations.

How To Become A Firefighter In Kentucky

  • 18 years or older
  • High school diploma or GED
  • A valid state driver’s license
  • Pass a background check
  • Pass a physical agility test
  • A US citizen with residency in Kentucky

As you can see the bare minimum requirements here are quite straightforward in terms of age, certification and physical fitness.

However, the process can become more complicated as it progresses. Further screening processes, drug tests and firefighter interviews weed out the best candidates from the rest.

Some departments also have specifics within their policies that may exclude certain applicants.

In this guide, I want to highlight some of the issues with these policies, the challenges facing those that are eligible and the training opportunities available. I will also talk about a few of the major fire departments in the state.

Firefighting in Kentucky

Kentucky fire departments stretch right across the state dealing with emergencies on different scales.

There are intense industrial blazes and major incidents in cities as well as all of the floods, wildfires and disaster relief out in the countryside.

All Kentucky fire recruits must have skills across many disciplines to handle anything that they encounter. This means wildland training, emergency drills and experience with different hazardous materials.

One aspect of firefighting in Kentucky that sets it apart from the other states in the country is the number of bourbon distilleries.

Naturally, if one were to develop a fault or a blaze then it becomes a major risk to life in the area because of the high alcohol content.

95% of American Bourbon comes from Kentucky with 73 licensed distilleries offering different brands and supplying to countless retailers across the world. Eight of those are in the Bardstown area alone.

A recent fire at one of the Jim Beam warehouses showed just how intense and rapid these fires can be. The blaze was extreme and difficult for crews to control.

One thing that I want to talk about here is the slightly old-fashioned policies and viewpoints held by fire departments in Kentucky.

All new recruits must realize that while the fire service is an equal opportunities employer, there are fewer female firefighters than usual.

Kentucky does allow for women recruits as much as men. However, women can’t feel as though they are at a disadvantage.

The Kentucky Commission on Human Rights challenged the manual of the Louisville department over statements about female recruits that “overtly discourage women”.

Female applicants can read the arguably patronizing wording of the chief here and make up their own minds. It may actually encourage many to prove him wrong.

Then there is a requirement in the rules of the Bardstown district that I need to highlight.

Elsewhere on this site, you will find guides that I have written about the image of the firefighter and the acceptance of beards in fire departments.

Many stations are happy to be lenient on tattoos and a small amount of facial hair because of cultural and religious rights.

However, Bardstown Fire Department is one that insists that their employees follow their grooming policy. This means being clean-shaven and “maintaining a positive public image”.

It seems as though they are of the impression that a respectable, approachable public servant still looks a certain way.

Fire Academies In Kentucky

Whatever your race, religion or gender – or your personal appearance – all firefighter applicants in Kentucky need to have the right level of training to proceed in their career.

The good news for aspiring firefighters looking to begin their career is that the state has fire courses and fire academies in many major towns and cities. They include:

Jefferson Community and Technical College in Louisville is a good starting point for all those that don’t have prior firefighting experience.

You can enroll in this Fire Science program as a complete novice and pick up key skills and knowledge.

Those in volunteer roles can use this associate degree to help them progress into a paid career role. Those in entry-level paid positions can use this as part of their training credits and advance within their department.

The course requires 18 credit hours of coursework and 46 credit hours of specialist fire/rescue/EMS classes. You can learn more about this degree here.

Another form of firefighter training to consider if you’re wondering how to become a firefighter in Kentucky is the state fire rescue program.

Here trainees can learn more about what it takes to coordinate an emergency response to a major incident in the state. This includes a chance to look at the roles of fire departments but also those of the police, medical responses, government agencies and other specialist rescue teams.

These training sessions could prove useful for those in a managerial role or those looking to increase their skills.

The initiative runs through 14 different offices in Kentucky so there should be an opportunity near you. You can find out more about this higher education option here.

Major Fire Departments in Kentucky

There are many departments scattered throughout Kentucky. Some will experience more urban incidents, such as commercial fires, while others are more rural nearer to the mountains.

How to Become a Louisville, KY Firefighter

  • 18 years or older
  • High school diploma or GED
  • A valid state driver’s license
  • Pass a background check
  • Pass a physical agility test
  • A US citizen with residency in Kentucky
  • No felony convictions or multiple misdemeanors

I have to start with Louisville because it is the largest department in one of Kentucky’s most populated cities.

A job here will bring new recruits plenty of experience with all kinds of emergencies and accidents. In fact, the department claims that its more than 500 members can handle as many as 50,000 incidents in a year.

Upon passing the minimum requirements outlined above, you need to undertake a written exam, a physical agility test, background check and pass a polygraph.

All successful candidates then enter the department’s 27-week training program at the Louisville Fire Training Academy.

How to Become A Bardstown, KY Firefighter

  • Good physical condition
  • New recruits must complete 24 hours of standby at the station every month
  • Must meet 18 hours of training per quarter
  • High school diploma or equivalent
  • Must be at least 18 years of age
  • Pass a background check and medical exam
  • Adhere to department grooming policy which includes being clean shaven and maintaining a positive public image

I want to mention Bardstown in this guide because of the incident at the Jim Beam warehouse and all those distilleries at risk. Recruits here need to be skilled and ready to handle anything.

Training is essential and new recruits should engage in additional training courses and advanced skills as they progress through their career. In fact, department officers state that new recruits must engage in 24 hours of standby per month and 18 hours of training per quarter.

Aside from the issue mentioned before about “positive public image”, the rules for joining the Bardstown service are pretty much the same as most departments.

Job Prospects for Firefighters In Kentucky

As of 2018, the Bureau for Labor Statistic states that there were 4240 firefighters in Kentucky, which means a ratio of 2.24 per 100 jobs.

The annual mean wage was calculated as $33,520.

This is interesting when we consider the current rates in Louisville. Here, recruits can expect to get the following: $18,357 as an entry-level basic firefighter, $58,529 as an expert level basic firefighter and then $83,435 for an expert fire officer.

This shows the opportunities for progression in one department alone. The lower mean figure probably accounts for all the lower-paid salaries in smaller cities and towns.

Louisville is the capital after all. It is interesting to compare these figures to Tennessee to the south.

This neighbor state has a similar rate of employment – fair but not the best – but offered a higher mean in this period of $40,280.

If you’re wondering how to become a firefighter in Kentucky, just know it isn’t easy. The state rules and minimum department expectations mean that there are plenty of criteria to meet and processes to work through.

Some hopeful volunteers may find it more difficult than others. The rules on beards and language addressing women aren’t ideal for modern departments. Yet, there are plenty of opportunities for men and women of all backgrounds to train, build knowledge and progress in their career.

As long as you continue to work on your skills while maintaining that professional image, you should do pretty well in Kentucky.