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Firefighters as we know them today are seen as highly skilled, trusted, and well-respected individuals in all communities on the planet. They are known for putting their lives in danger for the safety of others. The occupation that is known as firefighting as existed for as long as civilization exists and as long as civilization exists there will always be a need for firefighters. However, firefighters were not always the organized, highly skilled professionals we know them as today.
One of the first uses of organized and professional firefighters was in Ancient Rome due to extensive fires that grew to become uncontrollable and ravaged Rome. Rome’s response was to develop a fire department which consisted of nearly 7,000 men who were paid to be firefighters. These men not only acted as firefighters but also acted as a sort of police as they would patrol the streets and were able to impose corporal punishment to anyone that was violating fire prevention codes. In the early days of the United States (when it was still just a colony) this was hardly the case. The first recorded fire in the new world happened in 1608, at the colony of Jamestown in just only a year after it was discovered. Fire was a real threat to colonial America but very little changed in firefighting techniques over the next few centuries. In the late 17th century many fire companies were usually just volunteers who usually fought other volunteers for who got to put out a fire. This was due to the fact that insurance companies only paid brigades that put out the fire so this led to some firefighters being recruited not only for their firefighting abilities but for their actual abilities in fighting in order to protect equipment and fight other stations. The image of the dalmatian dog running along a fire engine is also based in historic fact. Dalmatians were chosen as firedogs due to the strong bonds they formed with the fire men and the horses that pulled the steamers but also because they were charged with protecting the equipment from theft or damage. It wasn’t until the late 19th and early 20th century that many fire brigades began turning to steam powered & later gas-powered firefighting apparatus’ and taking on the more professional role that we know them for today.
Throughout history, every civilization has either noticed or experienced the destructive power of fire when it rages uncontrollably. It can turn even the grandest of cities into nothing but dirt and ash leaving an entire population with no home and no where else to go. Even with our modern cities using stronger building materials than ever before, fires can and still are a huge threat to many cities and towns. The need for a response team to control and put out these fires has always been present. Firefighters whether volunteer or professional have been held in high regard due to the risk they take in protecting citizens from the ravages of an uncontrolled fire or any other emergency not to mention saving millions of dollars a year in property damage. For me being a firefighter means giving back to the community in terms of giving your life to others and to face down death if it means saving innocence. Being a firefighter means being ready to spring to action at a moment notice because disaster does not have a set schedule. However, times have changed since the days of gathering in a line and passing a bucket of water to the fire. Becoming a firefighter in today’s world has many more requirements that need to be strictly met.
When it comes to learning how to become a firefighter it is best to just go to your local firefighting station and ask. Most will tell you one of the first steps to becoming a firefighter is first volunteer for the trade (FireScience Online). Before you ask, most stations require that you must be at least 18 years old (some stations require you to be 21) and at most 35 years. Volunteering usually means you’ll be helping around the station, participating in community service, or staff a table at a community fair. Although you may not be rescuing any cats from trees or putting out fires immediately it does help build vital professional contacts in the field and will help you become familiar with the firefighting community which can be a factor when you’re trying to move up. Aside from local departments, firefighters are also hired through state fire organizations, construction trades, fire-equipment manufacturers/suppliers, and even wilderness firefighting agencies.
When it comes to education requirements, you are required to have your high school diploma or GED. Although each firefighting organization has different hiring requirements, a common denominator for most is that you also need get a fire science degree. It is also advised that applicants either get their CPR certification, but many departments even require you to get your EMT certification. You are also required to be in good physical shape as you will be required to pass the CPAT. The CPAT or the Candidate Physical Ability Test is the recognized standard for measuring an individual’s ability to handle to the demands of being a firefighter (FCTC). Participants must be able to effectively navigate eight tests within a span of 10 minutes and 20 seconds in a closed course. The tests are usually stair climb, hose drag, equipment carry, ladder raise and extension, forcible entry, search, rescue drag, and ceiling breach and pull. To simulate the gear a firefighter would carry, CPAT candidates must wear a helmet along with gloves and a 50-lb weighted vest. For the climb test candidates must also apply an additional 25-pound weight which represents a hose pack that a firefighter would have to carry during a high-rise fire. Aside from the physical exam, you are also required to pass a written exam, oral interview, background investigation, and a drug screening. The written exam covers math, problem solving, written and oral communication, math, memory, and reasoning. You will also undergo a psychological exam that covers personality traits along with a medical exam covering hearing, eyesight, blood pressure, blood and urine (FireScience Online).
When responding to an emergency, firefighters are usually equipped with a fire helmet which is made from durable, heat resistant materials to protect from heat and falling objects. They also where turnout pants and a jacket which is made out of a two-layer fabric designed to fend off heat. They usually feature bright colors such as orange, or yellow reflective stripes to make firefighters more visible through smoke. Along with the helmet and turnout clothes, they are also equipped with a self-contained breathing apparatus which is connected to an air tank worn on the firefighters back which gives the firefighter breathable air for 30 minutes. They also wear leather gloves and thick rubber boots which allow them to function well on wet surfaces and to be able to grab hot materials as they’re making their way through a burning building. Firefighters are also equipped with a Personal Alert Safety System (PASS) which monitors a firefighter’s location via GPS and can also be used as a transmitter if a firefighter needs help or gets trapped.
According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, as a firefighter you’ll be expected to know or learn how to, suppress and extinguish fires with hoses, pumps and additional apparatus. You are also required to be able to know how to drive and operate emergency vehicles and pump engines, evacuate fire structures, treat victims, maintain firefighting equipment and participating in public education. According to the National Fire Protection Association, 2 out of 3 calls firefighters respond to are medical emergencies and not fires. In 2018 alone there was a total of 23,551,500 medical emergency calls and only 1,318,500 fire related calls (NFPA). The duties of a firefighter can change several times at the scene of an emergency such as having to rescue trapped survivors at a disaster scene. When a department is not responding to an emergency, firefighters are usually conducting practice runs and maintaining equipment. Most firefighters work for a whole 24-hour shift and then are off for the next 48-72 hours. During their work shift however, they live at their respective fire stations where they eat, sleep, and remain on call at any time of day regardless of weather.
As of 2018 Firefighters make a median pay of around $49,620 a year (Bureau of Labor Statistics). The number of firefighting jobs in 2018 was roughly around 332,400 along with 27,204 fire departments that are listed with the National Fire Department Registry which accounts for nearly 91% of all U.S. fire departments (BLS, USFA). The south (including Texas) makes up for 36% of all registered fire fighting departments in the United States with Texas having 1,510 registered departments as of February 21, 2020 (USFA). The job outlook from 2018-2028 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says that firefighting employment is projected to grow 5% which is about as fast as the average for all occupations (BLS).
With the number of requirements and necessary prerequisites needed, being a modern firefighter means that you are a skilled individual who is not afraid to put your life in danger in order to save others. Firefighters are also a respected group of individuals in any community who have a well paying job that encourages advancement. Although it is a competitive field the rate of growth is constant and can even increase in the next few years to meet with the requirements of this modern era.
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