How To Become A Firefighter In West Virginia

It can often feel as though the state of West Virginia has been left behind, but many still wonder how to become a firefighter in West Virginia. 

There are problems with employment, decreasing population numbers and poverty. But, no matter the health and well-being of the state, the fire service is always there with whatever resources are available.

This means numerous departments across the state offering advice on fire prevention, helping with fire suppression and saving lives during a medical emergency.

How to Become a Firefighter in West Virginia

  • 18 years of age
  • High school education or GED
  • Resident of the state
  • Valid driver’s license
  • EMT certificate preferred

This is a good starting point for anyone wondering how to become a firefighter in West Virginia. You can use this to work your way through the hiring process and into a new career.

I will talk more about that process below as well as some of the training options available. I also want to talk about some of the different factors – good and bad – that make firefighting in West Virginia a little bit different.

There are issues to overcome here, but this should be more incentive to create a better community through service.

Firefighting in West Virginia

The basic requirements are very similar across all departments. It is quite easy to get started if you are prepared to work for the qualifications you don’t have.

This typically means basic firefighter training for Firefighter 1 and an EMT certificate for medical emergencies.

If you pass the initial application, then you will face a screening process. Again, this is pretty standard practice and typically contains a background check, polygraph test. This gives them a better idea of your character and suitability for the role. It’s also important to note that this is more likely in major cities than smaller volunteer stations.

One thing that you will notice about West Virginia is the lower age limit for firefighters. There are some departments in other states that prefer that candidates are 19 or even 21.

Here 18 is the norm.

However, there are also plenty of opportunities for those that are even younger. It seems as though the state is trying to draw in potential applicants from childhood to secure the size of departments in the future.

Therefore, those that dream of being a firefighter from a young age may be able to work towards their goal sooner than they expect.

There are two ways to do this in West Virginia. The first step is the explorer program for children under 16. This fun program teaches kids about what it means to be a part of the fire service and the roles and responsibilities.

There is an educational benefit here as well as a social one.

Regular attendance can shape a child’s understanding of the department and their attitudes towards their community.

Then there is the Junior Firefighter program for teens aged 16 to 18. Here they can take part in some activities within the fire department as a kind of work experience program.

The skills learned here may help them to apply for a full-time volunteer or career role at a later date.

More information about these programs is available here.

Other issues facing West Virginia firefighters

There are 12 million acres of forest in West Virginia under the protection of the Division of Forestry. One of the threats to this natural resource is wildfire.

Wildfire danger maps and fire season guidelines are a great start in the prevention of fire. Strong laws on outdoor burning reduce the need for firefighters to come and manage wildfires.

However, some disregard the law, make mistakes and even those that commit arson. So, firefighters in West Virginia need to have adequate wildland fire training to preserve the forests and those that live near them. Find out more here.

Poverty rates in West Virginia are high. A survey in 2017 found that 19% of the population were living in poverty.

Income growth is small and unemployment has grown. Poverty on this scale, especially in rural communities, can increase fire risks.

Therefore, it is important that all rural West Virginia departments can cater to their needs. This means rapid responses to out-of-reach places and the tools to handle structural damage and any hazardous materials within the homes.

Crews also need to have the communication skills and outreach programs to educate these communities on the best way to stay safe. Guidance on fire safety is just as important as fire suppression in these areas.

Anyone training to be a firefighter in West Virginia needs to have a wide skill set to handle all these issues.

Those that start their basic training as a volunteer or reserve firefighter need to continue their studies throughout their career. There is always something new to learn when it comes to emergency situations, rescue strategies and the best equipment.

Fire Academies in West Virginia

There aren’t too many choices when it comes to a formal education for firefighters in West Virginia. There are few options below that offer academic fire courses. The alternative is to work with a department as a volunteer to gain your experience and training.

The American Public University offers a Bachelor of Science degree program in Fire Science Management.

This allows students the chance to study different aspects of the profession in theory and in practice. It starts with some ideas of fire prevention and suppression as well as looking at fire behavior.

There are also modules on disaster management and emergency responses. The unusual thing about this course is that it is a Momentum program. This means working with mentors on specific areas one by one rather than working in classes.

This can offer a more personalized approach and one-to-one experience. The program is only available to those with an associate degree. Find out more about this program here.

The WVU Extension Service began a training program since 1974 and has since grown to cater to many new recruits across the state. T

hey continually work to improve their range and standards and work to the regulations of the National Fire Academy.

The facility houses 25,752 square feet of training areas, classroom and more to provide the very best experience for students.

This means comprehensive basic training for anyone starting their journey in the West Virginia fire service. You can learn more here.

Major Fire Departments in West Virginia

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

How to Become a Charleston, WV Firefighter

  • 18 years of age
  • High school education or GED
  • Resident of the state
  • Valid driver’s license
  • EMT certificate preferred

Charleston and Huntington are roughly the same size in terms of population, with only 47,000 – 48,000 people.

The Charleston Fire Department is the larger of the two fire departments, however, with 169 staff at 8 stations.

They can respond to as many as 30,000 emergency incidents per year. This includes fires, accidents and medical emergencies.

Department members here need to have all the necessary skills to handle a range of calls. On-going training after the hiring process is a must, including certification in hazardous materials and more advanced strategies helps you protect the community more easily. Learn more here.

How to Become a Martinsburg, WV Firefighter

  • 18 years of age
  • High school education or GED
  • Resident of the state
  • Valid driver’s license
  • EMT certificate preferred

Martinsburg is much smaller with just 17,400 people. Still, they have a dedicated 37-person career department on call to help protect those in the jurisdiction.

This includes divisions for fire safety and rescue but also ambulance support. The minimum requirements to join this department are standard regarding age, education and residency.

Those that don’t have EMT certification at the time of application are expected to begin working towards it within 90 days of employment. Find out more about the department here.

Job Prospects for Firefighters in West Virginia

The poverty seen in West Virginia is reflected in the salary offered and job opportunities compared to other neighboring states.

There is a massive difference between West Virginia and Virginia. The larger, eastern state employed 10,160 in 2018 with a mean annual salary of $51,510.

In West Virginia, there were 830 firefighters and an average wage per year of $36,820.

However, Charleston does offer pay incentives for those with medical training. Paramedics get an extra $2400 a year. Huntington offers $35,975 for the first year with a program to increase to $40,749 after five years.

Just because West Virginia has a low number of firefighter positions, that doesn’t mean that you should give up on any hopes of joining the fire service here.

The state will always need fully-staffed departments to cover every populated region. It may be too late for you to enroll in any junior program, but this is a great tool for the next generation.

Volunteer service and college education are available to help you get into the fire service. From there, you can build on your skills to enjoy a very fulfilling career.