Are you considering joining your local fire department? Or have you recently been hired? Congratulations! Whether you are a paid on-call/ volunteer firefighter or a full-time firefighter, being a firefighter is one of the most coveted and trusted jobs in the United States. If you are like me, within your first year you will find a huge love for firefighting and hope to make it a full-time career. Since I have now upgraded from a yellow probationary helmet to a black helmet, I want to share some advice to those about to start their first year as a firefighter.
Read the Books
Your first year of firefighting will most likely be spent in some sort of academy to receive your Firefighter I, Firefighter II, and HAZMAT Ops/ Materials certifications. You may also be required by your department to become an Emergency Medical Responder or an Emergency Medical Technician. This will mean countless hours in a classroom setting listening to powerpoints and having hands-on training. My advice: READ THE BOOKS! The books usually share real-life scenarios, helpful mnemonics, and tips that may not be mentioned by your instructor. Your final examination will also most likely follow the book, NOT the presentations.
Shadow As Much As Possible
Depending on your department, you may be allowed to shadow on shifts. Shadow as much as possible! This will help you implement what you have learned in the academy and make real life decisions based on the call (medical or fire). Shadowing will also help you learn more about your teammates who you can learn skills and techniques from. If you aren’t already assigned a mentor, ask someone who has been a firefighter for a couple of years if you can team up with them to ask questions regarding drills, calls, or academy. Remember: firefighting is a team based job. Your teammates want you to be the best firefighter you can possibly be as they might be the ones needing YOUR help one day!
Keep your locker stocked!
Sometimes, adrenaline takes over. You hear the pager go off, you grab your keys, and… you're in your crocs with no socks. This has happened to me countless times which is why I now keep my locker at the station stocked. I highly recommend keeping small things like socks, snacks, and water bottles in your locker. Keeping items like soap, shampoo, and conditioner would also be a great idea if your department has showers for after long fire calls. You may also want to keep extra clothes in your locker in case you get unwanted fluids or debris on you.
As simple as it sounds, drink your water! Even on days off, make sure you are drinking enough water for your body weight. You will really notice your water intake when you are in full bunker gear, exerting energy, and sweating! This also goes hand in hand with food. Try your best to maintain a healthy diet so you can effectively perform the tasks of a firefighter.
Talk to Someone
Although you decided you want to become a firefighter and received the training to know what to do in traumatic situations, sometimes, you will see things that no human should ever have to see or experience. You may respond to calls where you know the person, where the car crash was fatal, or where there is nothing you can do to stop the fire from taking someone’s childhood home. Don’t be afraid to talk to someone. As firefighters, we are blessed to have resources available, like counselors, to us to get us through the hard times. These resources will be provided to you once you are hired onto a department. Also, try to surround yourself with people who support you and care about your mental health. Their support will help you immensely as you take on this hard yet rewarding job.
All in all, your first year as a firefighter is all about learning. You will learn what works best for you and what might need to change in order for you to be successful. Share what you have learned with the "newbies" as your advice might be helpful for someone else’s experience.
Written by Natalie Streich
Marketing Coordinator and Recruitment Officer for MN Fire Hire