How To Become A Firefighter In Pennsylvania

It’s not uncommon to hear aspiring firefighters ask how to become a firefighter in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania has a long history with some fire departments stretching far back into the 19th century. The cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have large staffs and are always looking for the very best firefighters to join their department.

Further out in the more rural communities, there are lots of opportunities for smaller department community roles.

Pennsylvania is a state with a lot of quirks when it comes to hiring and training firefighter. That is why this guide is vital for new applicants. Let’s start with the basic requirements.

How To Become A Firefighter In Pennsylvania

  • 18 years or older
  • Valid Pennsylvania driver’s license
  • Proof of residency
  • Pass the civil service exam
  • Pass a background check
  • Pass a drug test
  • Pass a medical examination
  • Complete the department’s required training

The criteria above are taken from a list used by the Pittsburgh Fire Department.  They highlight some of the key factors that all career firefighters should expect when working in this city (and most cities in the state).

The age, residency and background check restrictions are fairly standard across the country. They need to be sure that you are who you say you are and are able to serve the residents.

However, the process isn’t quite that straightforward. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach in this state because of current limitations and pressures.

Therefore, some in volunteer positions may not have to go through the same training and screening as those in career positions in larger cities.

In this guide, I want to talk about some of the expectations in both areas.

Volunteer positions are more common, so you need to be aware of these differences. I also want to discuss some of the training options and major departments in the state.

Career vs Volunteer Firefighting in Pennsylvania

The basic requirements to become a firefighter in Pennsylvania are different depending on whether you want to be a career firefighter or a volunteer firefighter.

The criteria in the beginning of this article are all taken from career positions in Pennsylvania.

However, volunteer departments in Pennsylvania don’t require mandatory training for volunteers. Each individual department takes control over the amount of training received once volunteers are recruited.

There are pros and cons to this approach. The pros are that it allows sharp, dedicated firefighters the chance to get straight out there and fill posts. Many volunteers that have other jobs and families don’t have the time to commit to long courses.

But, there are concerns that this could jeopardize safety on emergency scenes.

What happens if they show up with none of the basic skills or EMT training that others offer? Concerns like this are why there are calls for this rule to change in coming years.

Before I go into more detail about the requirements and qualifications for this state, I want to explain a little about why requirements are so minimal.

The US Fire Administration has declared a recruitment crisis in the state.

Many states have noted a decline in the number of volunteer firefighters in recent years. But, Pennsylvania is the worst hit.

There were 300,000 in the 1970s and that has declined to around 38,000.

Their response has been to make it easier to apply, take away the personal cost of the background check and to offer free tuition to student volunteers. https://www.usfa.fema.gov/operations/infograms/120618.html

Veteran Firefighters in Pennsylvania

Some departments in Pennsylvania, such as Pittsburgh, have a system where they show preference to veterans.

This means that those that successfully submit their DD-214 form with a clear service record will have an additional 10 points on their civil service score.

Firefighting jobs can be a great way for veterans to take the skills learned in military service into their life as a civilian.

This policy can make the process easier. However, that doesn’t mean that you can relax with the rest of the testing and screening. You still need to meet the other basic requirements.

Training Requirements for Pennsylvania Firefighters

Many departments will provide volunteers with the time and training opportunities to improve their skills and knowledge.

The bare minimum expectation is typically the basic Firefighter 1 training with 70 hours as a first responder.

Those that want to stand out will take advantage of all the certificates and opportunities in front of them. This includes emergency vehicle operations courses for ladder trucks and other essential apparatus.

But, it really is down to each department to make sure that their staff pull their weight with their education.

Fire Academies in Pennsylvania

Despite the different attitudes toward mandatory firefighter training in Pennsylvania, there are quite a few educational institutions with fire courses and other training. New applicants are recommended to get in touch with their local community college for more guidance.

Philadelphia: Community college of Philadelphia and Holy Family University

Pittsburgh: Point Park University and Community College of Allegheny County

Willow Street: https://lancasterctc.edu/

Doylestown: Bucks County Community College

Youngwood: Westmoreland County community college

Harrisburg: Harrisburg Area Community College-Harrisburg

Bethlehem: Northampton County Area Community College

Blue Bell: Montgomery County Community College

Nanticoke: Luzerne County Community College

Butler: Butler County Community College

Pennsylvania State Fire Academy

One alternative is to train with a fire department directly. It is always worth getting in touch with your local station to see exactly what types of training they offer.

The Local Level Training program is something that isn’t seen in any of the other states in the US. The idea here is that Pennsylvania officials don’t expect applicants to come to them.

Instead, they can deliver the course at a local station that is more convenient. This way, more applicants can access these different courses on the Entry Level curriculum.

They also take place at any time on request. Many facilities have a couple of slots per year for new applicants.

This approach is a brilliant way to encourage new recruits to jump into their new roles with some experience under their belts.

If fire departments are required to offer specific training, then it makes sense to provide this accessible option. It is ideal for those that can’t travel far from home due to other work commitments or their families.

You can learn more about this program here.

Major Fire Departments in Pennsylvania

The following is a list of large fire departments in Pennsylvania with the requirements to apply to work at that particular department.

How To Become a Philadelphia Firefighter

  • 18 years or older
  • High school diploma or GED
  • Pass a physical fitness test
  • Valid Pennsylvania drivers license
  • Pass the civil service exam
  • Pass a background check
  • Complete the 24 week Philadelphia Fire Academy

The Philadelphia Fire Department is the largest in the state with 63 stations across the city.

The requirements in Philadelphia are pretty minimal, and there is only a 6-month probationary period.

Once applicants go through the required training and screening processes here then they can proceed with a long career is one of the state’s most diverse and challenging areas.

Find out more about the process here.

How To Become A Pittsburgh Firefighter

  • 18 years or older
  • Valid Pennsylvania driver’s license
  • Proof of residency
  • Pass the civil service exam
  • Pass a background check
  • Pass a drug test
  • Pass a medical examination
  • Complete the department’s required training

Pittsburgh is an industrial town famous for its steel industry.

Today, the industry and its mills are at a crossroads with few working mills but hopes for regeneration.

The “Steel City” has seen some major industrial fires over the centuries and the density of the metropolitan area means that firefighters are always kept busy.

The Pittsburgh Fire Department consists of 30 stations in the region and an area of 55.5 square miles. This adds up to around 26,000 emergencies a year.

How To Become A Gettysburg, PA Firefighter

Then there are the smaller options that are set up for volunteers rather than paid career firefighters. A good example of this lies in the historic town of Gettysburg.

They aren’t anywhere near as busy, with around 700 calls a year, but this does mean that they are the busiest in Adams County.

The smaller scale of their operations is a great way for volunteers to get more hands-on experience than they might in other departments.

They provide coverage to a 25 square mile area with 20,000 residents so there is a strong community feel.

Community stations in Pennsylvania may not have the same amount of major incidents but they often have a wide range of roles.

Skills learned here in public outreach and fire prevention can help when building a career in the future. You can learn more about the Gettysburg Fire Department at https://www.gettysburgfd.com

Job Prospects for Pennsylvania Firefighters

Job prospects pretty good in Pennsylvania.

Looking at high employment rates by metropolitan area, the New York-Newark-Jersey City of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania is the second highest employer with 13,070 and 1.38 per 1000 people.

This area also pays pretty well with $78.840 as an annual mean rate for fully qualified staff and $37.90 hourly.

The positions are available for those that want them, and it is easier than ever to get a foot in the door.

Salaries will vary between locations and depending on experience.

For example, the yearly salary for a firefighter recruit is $54,856 in the Philadelphia Fire Academy.

Further details are available here: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes332011.htm#st

Finally, there really is a big difference between the volunteer and paid firefighting positions in Pennsylvania.

However, that doesn’t mean that one is a better option than the other. Volunteers with no experience can get started with ease in local communities. Ongoing, dedicated training then allows you to rise up and build knowledge.

Those that have the drive and ambition can work on further academic study into well-paid, competitive career posts in major cities.