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Want to be a Firefighter

So You Want To Become a Firefighter?

By: Al
April 2012

You noticed I said firefighter not fireman.

A firemen stokes the fire of a steam locomotive or ship. Shovels coal into the engine’s boiler.

“For one to understand the life of a firefighter, one would have to live that life.”
Raymond P. Hickey

Here is an example of the training course Essentials of Firefighting and Emergency Response, Pennsylvania State Fire Academy. This is class is taught at the Monroe County Public Safety Center under the direction of the Bucks County Community College. This class is the first step in becoming a firefighter.

Classes usually run on Mondays and Wednesdays nights from 1830 hours to 2230 hours with Saturdays and Sundays from 0800 hours to 1630 hours. Time to start learning about military hours.

This is by no means meant to scare you off but to give you an idea of the commitment needed to take the firefighter class.

The order the chapters are taught for each week are subject to change.

Example of Fall 2019 Class

Introduction to Fire Service – (Modular I)

Saturday August 13 8 hrs History, Command, Control, Safety for Firefighters

Sunday August 14 8 hrs Protective Clothing, Terrorism Awareness

Fire Ground Support – (Modular II)

Saturday August 20 8.5 hrs Hazardous Materials Laws, regulations, standards, etc

Sunday August 21 4.5 hrs Hazardous Materials Laws, regulations, standards, etc

Monday August 29 3 hrs Ropes and Knots Lecture
Wednesday August 31 4 hrs Water Supply Lecture
Wednesday September 7 4 hrs Fire Hose and Appliances Lecture

Saturday September 10 8 hrs Fire Hose and Appliances Practical

Monday September 12 3.5 hrs Behavior of Fire Lecture
Wednesday September 14 4 hrs Behavior of Fire Lecture continued, Extinguisher Practical

Saturday September 17 7 hrs Ropes, Knots, Fire Hose & Appliances Practical

Monday September 19 1.75 hrs Summary / Test

Exterior Firefighter – (Modular IV)

Wednesday September 21 4 hrs Communications & Ladders Lecture

Sunday September 25 8.5 hrs Protective System lecture & Practical

Monday September 26 4 hrs Fire Prevention & Pre-Planning
Wednesday September 28 4.5 hrs Ladders Lecture
Saturday October 1 7 hrs Forcible Entry Lecture
Sunday October 2 8 hrs Ladders Practical
Monday October 3 4 hrs Building Construction
Wednesday October 5 1.75 hrs Summary / Test
Sunday October 9 8 hrs Fire Suppression & Venting Lecture

Monday October 10 2 hrs SCBA Lecture
Wednesday October 12 3.5 hrs SCBA Practical
Saturday October 15 8 hrs Nozzles-Fire Streams Lecture
Monday October 17 3 hrs Firefighter survival
Wednesday October 19 4 hrs Salvage Lecture
Saturday October 22 8 hrs Vent Practical
Sunday October 23 8 hrs Rescue Procedures Practical
Monday October 24 4 hrs Salvage/Overhaul Practical
Wednesday October 26 1.75 hrs Review / Test
Saturday October 29 8 hrs Fire Suppression Practical

Structural Burn Session

Saturday November 5 8 hrs Structural Burn
Sunday November 6 8 hrs Structural Burn

Again hours, dates and what order the chapters are done is subject to change by the instructors. The fire company has no say in any of the schedule. In case you missed it, the class is 166 hours plus the live burn for 16 hours. Once completed you are a firefighter on paper. To quote one instructor we have only taught you enough to make you dangerous. Now you should look into taking the test for Firefighter I another 16 hour class. This will straighten your skills and it is recognized in all 50 states, Essentials of Firefighting is not. But your training does not end there. Additional training, drills, etc. take place within the fire company. You will not be just sent off on your own.

There are over 100 classes you can take. Now if you haven’t had enough, want more and want to be specialized well here are a few more classes you can take.

Basic Vehicle Rescue – Awareness – 16 hrs
Basic Vehicle Rescue – Operations – 16 hrs
Basic Vehicle Rescue – Technician – 16 hrs
Blood Borne Pathogens & Infectics Disease Awareness – 4 hrs
Firefighter Survival – 16 hrs
Haz Mat – Operations – 24 hrs
Haz Mat – Technician – 16 hrs
Pump Operations I – 16 hrs
Pump Operations II – 16 hrs

Do you still want to become a firefighter now? Yes, GOOD – We would love to have you. If you answer is no, then you should still look into joining us to see in what other function you can help. If you have said no to it all as you have no time, family commitments, work, etc. we fully understand but hope now you have a better idea of what a firefighter does.

Personal Note:

I always wanted to become a firefighter. I grow up watching the TV show “Emergency”. Unfortunately if you know the east coast it’s all about timing and politics. I did become an EMT in NJ and rode as a volunteer for over ten years thus becoming a life member.

After moving to PA I wanted to become involved again but more with the fire side. Again timing is everything. With a wife that worked nights, very young children and working shift work myself there was just no time to take a 166 hour class.

After about seven years the children were older now and my wife’s hours had changed so I figured it’s now or never. I still could not do the 166 hour class so I joined the fire company as Fire Police (please see website for what we do) and took classes totaling 32 hours for this role. This lasted over three years till I decided to make the big jump to firefighter. My son had joined the company two years ago and was now of age to take three quarters of the 166 hour class as you have to be over 18 years old to do the live structural burn. We were all signed up and ready to go in August. Due to another commitment my son was unable to start the class and would now have to wait till the spring class. I thought about dropping out but he convinced me to stay with it as I was not getting any younger. The first two parts were not bad but by the time we got to the third modular and I was climbing a ladder going to the fourth floor of a building I started asking myself at the age of 45 what was I doing. With engorgement from the other firefighters in training I got through ladders. Now it’s on to searching a smoke filled room. Some cuts and swelling on my knees but I will live and nothing that can’t be fixed with a better pair of turn out pants. After the last class on firefighter survival and looking at the number of firefighters that are killed every year you start to think about that age again, your wife and children. Remember this is volunteer firefighting. Getting close to the end now. Wait we still have to play with things burning. Why did I listen to my son? Have taken the written and practical test for modular IV and passed. I now have that piece of paper. It is a great feeling of accomplishment to have finally finished. It seems like we just started.

Well I have come this far so I might as well continue on. What is another 16 hour class and a missed weekend with my family. The first day went well. No sense lying about it the second day was going well till just a little over the half way point when I collapsed inside the training building. I was immediately assisted by several other firefighters out of the building and brought over to EMS who was already standing by for the day. Of coarse being dizzy, headache, a little pale, you get the idea. It was decided not by me that I would have to go to the hospital to be checked out. As EMS was treating me I noticed they were also treating another firefighter who was experiencing chest pain. After being transported to the hospital, an IV, a few test and told to drink water it was determined that I was dehydrated. After about three hours it was determined I was well enough to go home. The lead instructor Rich came to the ER to see how we were doing and to bring my personal affects. Rich also informed me that I have enough time in to have completed the structure burn. All I thought was Thank God.

I was drinking a lot of water and was trying to make sure I was drinking throughout the day but I came up a little short. Dehydration can set in quickly with all the firefighter gear on and a SCBA on. About 30 pounds extra your carrying.

I would like to thank all those firefighters who assisted me and to the Marshalls Creek EMS especially Linda for all they did for me.

Volunteer – According to Webster’s Dictionary – One who enters into, or offers for, any service of his own free will.

Let’s look at a Volunteer Firefighter. We already know they have to go to school for at least 166 hours. This means losing overtime, taking vacation days or calling in sick from your regular paying job to finish this. Now let’s look at once the firefighter is finished how much more time he puts into the local fire company. Drill nights, fund raising events (bingos, Christmas tree sales, etc.) maintenance on the trucks and building, more classes, let’s not forget responding to calls. Now emergencies don’t just happen when everyone is free or between the hours of 8 am and 5 pm. No they happen 24 hours a day 7 days a week. This means for the volunteer firefighter missing meals at home with the family, leaving work if able to, leaving parties, church, holidays and going out at 3 o’clock in the morning while everyone is home sleeping nice and warm.

Hopefully you have a better idea now of what a volunteer firefighter does. Stop in at your local fire company and say hi and take a look around. Stay Safe.