How To Become A Firefighter In Virginia

I can’t tell you how many aspiring firefighters have asked me how to become a firefighter in Virginia.  I have personally met several firefighters who work there, and they are some of the most professional and highly trained firefighters I’ve ever met. 

Virginia is one of the most interesting states in the US because despite being an average-sized state in the middle of the east coast, it seems to be the center for so much. Virginia has so much history in the way it has shaped the nation and it continues to leave an important legacy.

Cities continue to grow in the south, the mountain regions bring in even more tourists and revenue and Arlington still supports the nation’s capital.

With so much to protect regarding Virginia’s past, present and future, it needs the best possible fire service at its disposal. So, how can you be a part of this vital Virginian firefighting team?

How to Become a Firefighter in Virginia

  • At least 18 years old
  • High school education or higher
  • Virginia resident with US citizenship
  • EMT training recommended
  • Good moral character
  • Physically fit
  • No substance abuse issues or current tobacco use

As you will see, when I discuss some of the departments in Virginia, the state wants nothing but the best. They will weed out the weakest candidates and can seem a little ruthless.

However, most candidates of the right age and with the right qualifications can at least apply. Below I want to take a look at some of the expectations when applying to become a firefighter in Virginia.

This means the training requirements, responsibilities and challenges in different regions. I will also discuss some of the different departments and the training facilities.

Firefighting in Virginia

The landscape of Virginia changes dramatically from east to west. A large portion of the eastern stretch of Virginia is taken up with the Blue Ridge Mountains. The Shenandoah National Park sits in the North and tourists often follow the Blue Ridge Parkway down into North Carolina and on to the Great Smoky Mountains.

This area sees a lot of visitors that want to camp, explore and relax out in nature. The area is peaceful but not without its risks of fire and injuries. Wildfires can spread via man-made or natural causes, hikers can fall ill and accidents can happen on the trails.

Local firefighters in these areas need to be able to handle these emergencies with ease. Even the smallest volunteer department should be qualified in advanced rescue skills, wildland management and water rescue. They also need EMT training to help in medical calls.

At the furthest western edge of the state, you come to the coast of Chesapeake Bay and some of the larger cities in Virginia.

Norfolk and Richmond are among the major settlements out here. There is also the more remote Virginian peninsula with its own coastal communities. Here there is a range of responsibilities and challenges for all the firefighters.

The big cities need large departments with varied divisions to handle a large volume of calls. The smaller coastal communities need fire prevention strategies and support in the event of a major storm.

Water rescue skills are vital here – both on the rivers and out to see. Marine divisions can help with boat rescues, sea searches and other life-saving incidents. There is also the potential risk that these communities on the rivers could see flooding in bad weather.

Fire Academies in Virginia

Virginia has a large number of community colleges and fire academies across the state that can help with vocational training. They include:

The majority of courses that are available in Virginia are community college courses. These tend to take either one or two years to complete depending on your timeline. Some people take a quick certificate to get them into their Firefighter 1 and 2 certification exams.

Others take an associate degree to earn more credits and knowledge in other areas. This is often more than enough to get into the fire service.

Another option is to take a four-year degree course. This requires a lot more commitment but gives students a wider education and even more experience to take into high-level roles.

Hampton University offers this chance with their Bachelor of Science in Public Safety. Here, students can take a concentration in Fire Administration.

The modules become more specific and advanced as the years go on. In the fourth year, students learn a lot about management skills, fire investigation, legal issues, disaster planning and more.

This education sets graduates up for roles leading divisions and means that Virginian fire departments can bring in young officers with fresh ideas. You can learn more about the course here.

Tidewater Community College is one of those many institutions that offer students a certificate or an associate degree. They provide two different options.

The first is the one-year Fire Science Supervision Career Studies Certificate. This one is open to those that are already certified firefighter but want to advance their position.

The other is the two-year Fire Science Technology Associate Degree. This one is open to anyone that wants to become certified because it teaches skills for the Firefighter I and II examinations. The course is taught at the Virginia Beach Campus and more information is available here.

Major Fire Departments in Virginia

The following is a list of major fire departments in Virginia.  While it isn’t comprehensive it’s a great place to start if you’re interested in learning more about how to become a firefighter in Virginia.

How to Become a Virginia Beach Firefighter

  • At least 18 years old
  • High school education or higher
  • Virginia resident with US citizenship
  • EMT training recommended
  • Good moral character
  • Physically fit
  • No substance abuse issues or current tobacco use

Those that have recently gained their education at the Virginia Beach college campus may decide to stick around the area and apply for a job.

The city is home to a large department of nearly 500 personnel over 19 stations. This is essential as they are tasked to look after all 450,000 people, their homes and their business. The size of Virginia Beach means that there are lots of calls for medical emergencies, fires and accidents.

There is also the fact that this city is popular with tourists – some of whom may get into trouble out in the water.

Therefore, the city requires lots of specialist equipment and well-trained crew members that can conduct effective rescues. They have technical rescue trucks, fireboats and a Hazmat response vehicle.

The basic requirements in this city are as you would expect when it comes to age, education, residency and physical fitness.

There is also the requirement to sign a form saying that you won’t use any tobacco products while under employment. Also, be aware that the screening process is tough, they don’t like any past bad behavior and they will catch out any lies through a polygraph test and firefighter interviews.

This includes disqualification for employment for those that have erratic work records, undetected juvenile crimes and Class 2 misdemeanor convictions related to moral turpitude. You can find out more about these rule and regulations here.

How to Become an Arlington, VA Firefighter

  • At least 18 years old
  • High school education or higher
  • Virginia resident with US citizenship
  • EMT training recommended
  • Good moral character
  • Physically fit
  • No substance abuse issues or current tobacco use

The fire department in Arlington may have one of the most significant roles in the whole state. There are fewer stations and personnel here than in larger cities. But, these crews cover a lot of ground and need to be prepared for major disasters.

Arlington is an area of national importance because it is home to the Pentagon and an immediate neighbor of Washington, D.C. It also contains Reagan National Airport, two university campus and will soon welcome Amazon.

That’s a lot of travelers, military personnel, students, workers and residents in one small county. It was the Arlington fire department that responded to the Pentagon attack in 2001 and they will respond again if anything were to happen in D.C.

Because of all this, Arlington County Fire Department expect their recruits to be in peak physical condition with the right training and mindset for the job. You can find out more here.

Job Prospects for Firefighters in Virginia

The prospects for employment and pay can vary depending on your region. For example, there is a higher employment rate in the north than in the south.

The metropolitan area of Washington-Arlington-Alexandria actually covers four different states, but it has a high employment rate. There were 5,800 firefighters here in 2018 with a ratio of 1.85 per 1000 jobs.  At the time, the average annual salary there was $64,930.

In Virginia Beach, the current starting salary is $42,723. This increases by 5% on graduation. Additional experience and skills can also increase the amount earned. Therefore, there can be a big pay gap.

The average salary for the state of Virginia is $51,510.

This is significantly more than its neighbors. North Carolina firefighters got $35,550 and West Virginia firefighters got $36,820.

There are lots of challenges ahead of you if you’re interested in learning how to become a firefighter in Virginia. Some applicants will fall at the first hurdle because of their background and past or current tobacco use.

Others may struggle to meet the requirements on the fitness and personality tests. Those that pass then get to tackle tough training to learn all the necessary skills for their area.

Wherever you work in Virginia, you need the dedication to improve your skillset. This is as true when providing back-up for situations in Washington D.C as it is in the mountains or on the eastern coast. Stay committed, work hard and understand what is required of you in your chosen department.