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What is the job of a firefighter really like?

Firefighters work 48-hour shifts on a rotating schedule. Our Department is organized into three shifts (A-shift, B-shift, and C-shift). Firefighters report for duty at their assigned station at 0800 hours and are released from duty at 0800 hours. Shifts are organized by the following schedule: two days on and four days off. Then it starts up all over again. The schedule is not influenced by holidays such as Easter and Christmas. Should your shift fall on a holiday, you are expected to work.

A fire station is a home-away-from-home. Firefighters live and work together and function as a family and a team. A typical day includes physical training, equipment maintenance, station maintenance, training, report writing, public education, fire prevention, and emergency response. Firefighters pay for their meals on-duty and assist in food shopping, meal preparation, and clean-up. A Firefighter’s on-duty schedule may be somewhat routine; however it must also remain very flexible.

Firefighting involves vigorous and skilled physical work and continuous training, as well as handling emergency and life-or-death situations. In addition to fighting fires and rescuing citizens from burning buildings, firefighters also:
  • Work with citizens to promote fire prevention through education and inspections
  • Provide emergency medical care – both first responder and paramedic
  • Extinguish fires and perform post-fire salvage and overhaul
  • Perform rescue operations at automobile accidents
  • Conduct and participate in a variety of training programs to learn the latest firefighting technology and methods and to refresh current skills
Preparing for a Career in Firefighting

If you are still in high school, consider taking courses such as chemistry, elementary physics, and mechanics. Basic understandings of these areas of study are helpful. Also, involvement in team activities, community service, jobs requiring customer service, and experience working with tools, equipment and machinery can help prepare you for a firefighting career.

To obtain a Firefighter 1 certificate you must first attend a Firefighter 1 Academy. Most community colleges, such as Solano Community College, offer the Academy, EMT Certificate courses and Fire Science Technology courses. The Academy is normally a semester long course. In the Academy you will learn basic firefighting skills, do a lot of reading, take tests, and participate in a physical fitness regimen. The Fire Science Technology courses aren’t mandatory but they are a good building block of knowledge for becoming a firefighter. Emergency medical services are a huge part of the fire service and that is why an EMT-1 certificate is required by our Department. EMT classes are available through most community colleges as a semester long course and also through some trade schools.

If you find that you really like being an EMT, then becoming a Paramedic is something you should consider. Paramedic training is available through some community colleges and also through some trade schools. A Paramedic program takes about one year to complete. After completing the EMT-1 or Paramedic program, field experience can be gained by working for an ambulance company.

For long term planning, if your ambitions include moving to the level of Fire Captain, the above courses are required along with an Associate’s degree in Fire Science and California Fire Service Training and Education System (CFSTES) Fire Officer Certificate. Fire Science courses at the community college are semester long courses that are usually offered two at a time, on a rotating basis, with six courses total.

Our Department has a Ride-along program that gives citizens the opportunity to spend a day at a fire station (9:00a.m.-9:00p.m.) to see what goes on during a work day and to go on calls with the fire engine or ambulance. Normally it is required that a person be 18 years of age or older, but exceptions have been made with the captain’s approval and parent’s permission. To obtain more information about our Ride-along program call (707) 449-5452.

Our Department does not have a Volunteer Firefighter program. The Vacaville Fire Protection District (VFPD) does have a Junior Firefighter program as well as a Volunteer Firefighter program. To obtain more information about their programs call the VFPD at (707) 447-2252.

Physical fitness is very important for a firefighter. Strength training is important as well as aerobic training. Firefighters carry 80-100 pounds of equipment such as axes, hoses, chain saws, ladders, and extinguishers into and around fire scenes while wearing full protective clothing and self-contained breathing apparatus to rescue victims and put out fires. Firefighter work includes climbing flights of stairs, breaking doors, windows or roofs to gain access to or ventilate structures, dragging hose lines, and using power tools and hand tools. Because of all the rigorous tasks that firefighters must be ready to do, physical fitness is imperative in order to avoid injury to themselves and others.

Becoming a firefighter can be a long and competitive process but the rewards of the job are more than worth it. That is why it is important to have determination, patience, and a positive attitude.