How to Become a Firefighter

Academic Preparation:

Firefighters use many different skills to perform routine duties. They must be competent in several areas including physical science, mathematics, chemistry, biology and mechanical reasoning. The message is simple – study hard and in addition to mastering the basic subjects of reading, writing and mathematics, choose classes that will serve you well as a firefighter.

  • A firefighter needs general knowledge of physics and building construction to put out fires, perform rescue operations or inspect public buildings for fire safety violations.
  • As a first responder to medical emergencies and vehicle accidents, a firefighter relies on extensive medical training. Consequently, many fire departments require firefighters to become a certified Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) or licensed paramedic. Taking biology and physiology in school will give you a head start in this training.
  • Firefighters use mathematics to perform hydraulic calculations.Therefore, a strong foundation in mathematics is necessary for the job. Advanced math such as algebra and geometry have proven to be helpful.
  • Knowledge of chemistry and environmental ecology is necessary when responding to hazardous material and wildfire incidents.
  • Firefighters maintain fire equipment and apparatus and would benefit from such classes as welding, woodshop and auto mechanics.
  • Some departments require a Firefighter 1 Certification.
  • Most California fire departments require a passing score on the FCTC Written Exam

Staying Physically Fit:

A good way to prepare yourself for this demanding profession is to maintain or improve your overall physical fitness. A suitable weight training program is a good place to begin. People of smaller stature should consider a specific program to develop upper body strength. Playing organized team sports will also increase your power and endurance, while giving you practice at being a team player.

There’s no getting around it, firefighting is a physically strenuous job. The stress and sheer physical demand are tremendous and good health is not just an added benefit, it’s a job requirement. The first and most important test most prospective firefighters take is the Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT)

Numerous California fire departments hire using FCTC's SEL. Learn how to get your name on the list at


Participants in the CPAT must navigate eight separate events on a closed course within a span of 10 minutes and 20 seconds. Each event simulates a physical skill or function that firefighters experience on the job.

  • Stair Climb
  • Hose Drag
  • Equipment Carry
  • Ladder Raise and Extension
  • Forcible Entry
  • Search
  • Rescue Drag
  • Ceiling Breach and Pull

During the test, candidates wear a helmet, gloves and 50-lb weighted vests, designed to simulate the weight of firefighter personal protective equipment. For the stair climb – the first event – candidates will don an additional 25-lb weight, to simulate the carrying of a hose pack into a high-rise fire.
Candidates will be accompanied by a test proctor, who will call out directions for the test events and score the candidate’s success in real time.
Each event must be completed exactly as prescribed – if a candidate fails any component of the test, they will fail the entire test. Candidates also fail if they do not complete the eight events within the 10-minute, 20-second time limit. For more information about the CPAT and how to prepare, visit

Different departments require candidates to pass different written tests. For instance, more than 115 California fire departments require a passing score on the FCTC Written Test. The FCTC Written Exam is a multiple choice test consisting of the following four sections:

  • Section 1 – Recall and Comprehend Verbal and Visual Information. This section requires candidates to watch two short videos and answer questions based on the scenarios presented.
  • Section 2 – Apply Mechanical Reasoning
  • Section 3 – Solve Mathematical Problems
  • Section 4 – Recall and Comprehend Technical Information from Written Materials

Candidates will then have 2.5 hours to complete 100 multiple choice questions. For more information about the CPAT and how to prepare, visit


  • Once you know what department you want to apply for, gain a first-hand understanding of the department's values, culture and the community it serves.
  • Schedule a station visit.
  • Attend recruitment fairs and Cal-JAC Firefighter Career Expos.


  • Read each job announcement thoroughly and calendar all deadlines.
  • Complete application and ensure you meet all minimum qualifications.

Interview Process:

  • Oral Board: Qualified candidates are invited to participate in panel interviews. CLICK HERE  to view some sample oral interview questions.
  • Chief's Interview: Finalists are invited for an interview with the fire chief.
  • Drug test
  • Psychological evaluation
  • Background check
  • Polygraph examination
  • Driving records 
  • Employment records
  • Conviction records (if any)
  • Personal and professional references

Where Do I Start?