We’ve seen them help bring cats down from trees, help an elderly woman across the street with her groceries and help those fleeing danger as they rush in. Their truck can be heard approaching from the distance, as its sirens and roaring engine mute all other sounds. Ranging from small-town department to major metropolis, their services help people across the nation on a daily basis.
With an incredibly low acceptance rate and thousands of people potentially submitting an application to one department, the chances of becoming a firefighter are low. It isn’t easy being a firefighter, as it requires a variety of skills that demand dedication and commitment to the goal. Ranging from a healthy lifestyle to an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) certification, the road is long and difficult for those looking to first graduate from the academy after being admitted and later finding a job.
For the lucky few who are hired just a short time after graduating the academy, the feeling can be overwhelming. Having been hired just a few months after graduation, Coleman Peavy explained the lengthy process he experienced to accomplish his goal of being a firefighter. Not having drawn his inspiration from a childhood dream, but rather to ensure a stable future for himself, a firefighter seemed like the perfect job for him.
“About two years ago, I found myself in the weird limbo a lot of us are in of transitioning from childhood to adulthood. I was never one of those kids who have always known what they want to be when they grow up,” Coleman said. “I knew I loved being active, I knew I loved high stress situations and I knew I loved helping people, so firefighting seemed like a pretty great fit.”
As a member of a local fire department, Coleman said, “there’s never a dull moment.” Calls can range from a small fall to a burning building, so being prepared for any situation is a must and being both physically and mentally prepared for any situation is essential.
It didn’t start like this, however. After graduation, Coleman spent the better part of a year submitting various applications across the greater-Austin area with the knowledge he was competing against countless others.
“The hardest part of the process by far is actually getting hired. It seems like every little boy and girl who wanted to be a firefighter grew up, and it feels like there are 60 million people applying for a job that is only needing to hire a few of them,” Coleman explained. “I am one of the lucky ones who got hired at the third place I applied for, a lot of times it takes a lot longer than that.”
Countless hours of studying, preparing and focusing are required, as the job demands that its applicants are not only familiar with fire safety and medical knowledge, but are able to work as a team to get one job done.
“It is also important to remember to be kind to everyone you meet and always be the first to reach a hand out to help someone else to get ahead,” Coleman said, explaining the importance of getting to know everyone around you when looking for a job as a firefighter. Making connections and friends along the way can serve greatly as it is references and the word of those around that can make the hiring process a success.
Although the title includes the word, firefighters are most often called for medical emergencies. “About 80 percent of our calls are medical calls – running to nursing homes at night, helping the little girl who got bit in the leg by the neighbors dog, you know that kind of thing,” Coleman said, not sounding too excited about not being able to tell a story about a fire.
Medical calls are the most common throughout the day, especially during the summer as people take to the local lakes and rivers to enjoy the sun. Having studied for months in preparation for his exam, Coleman’s biggest hurdle was the medical terminology. The EMT certification requires hours of extensive preparation, as it is critical that firefighters are able to approach any situation in a calm and professional matter.
As cliché as it may sound, it’s important to never give up. It won’t happen in a day, it won’t happen in a month and it may not happen in a year. There’s an incredible amount of competition and only a small amount of openings for the job, but being consistent and engaging is a sure fire way to get ahead of the others.
“Start applying everywhere,” Coleman said, referring to the one-and-only rule he recommends for getting a job after graduation.
All departments in Texas will require its firefighters hold multiple certifications that can be obtained through various programs such as the fire academy at Austin Community College. It’s an affordable and easy way to get started and get ahead in the process. What is perhaps the most important step in the process, is gathering experience in any way possible before being hired.
“Do a lot of ride outs. Every firefighter knows every other firefighter, so if you meet a lot of them, and make a good impression they will talk about you to their friends, and when a spot becomes open you just might have already been recommended to fill it by someone you met along the way,” Coleman said, remembering the countless hours and weeks of riding out with the local fire departments across the city. “Don't give up, this truly is the best job you can ever do. All you need is a tiny taste, you won't be able to imagine doing anything else.”
With an average salary of over $48,000 per year, and a stable and secure job, the rewards of being a firefighter only increase over time. The ability to help others and see their reaction is “priceless” as Coleman perfectly stated.