CHARLOTTE – Firefighters are highly skilled professionals who require a great deal of training before they can begin their careers. To become a firefighter, the candidate must meet a minimum set of requirements that may vary slightly for different departments. However, all the basic skills to earn certifications are uniform.
Candidates must meet the following basic requirements:
- 18 years of age
- High school diploma or GED
- Honorable military discharge (if applicable)
- Must meet medical and physical requirements outlined in the NFPA 1582
- Must have the ability to think critically and solve complex problems in a hazardous environment
- Valid driver’s license
- Clean criminal record with no conviction of a felony offense
- Drug free of any illegal substances within 12 months of the date of the written exam
- No DWI convictions in the last four years
We suggest all interested candidates contact the Charlotte Fire Department or your local Fire/EMS department for more information about their requirements for eligibility. In the Mint Hill-Matthews area, the minimum requirements are a high school diploma, and a North Carolina Firefighter I and II, including an EMT certification. “Larger departments like Charlotte and Monroe will hire you and then train you to achieve these certifications,” said Mint Hill Fire Chief David Leath.
Regarding training and preparation for becoming a professional firefighter, an individual can start out during their high school years at the age of 16 with a junior firefighter apprenticeship at a local fire department. There are both volunteer and local town departments who may offer this opportunity. The apprentice will learn the important basic skills of firefighting under the guidance and direction of trained, experienced professional firefighters, and the emergency management team who will hold various training exercises throughout the year. This training will give the prospective candidates the ability to better understand the physical, mental, and potentially hazardous conditions while learning the importance of teamwork and communications while working in a dangerous and stressful environment.
Regarding academic studies, there are programs offered at Community Colleges in Fire Science Technology to obtain an Associate degree. There are other programs online and traditional college programs to earn a Bachelor’s degree in Fire Science or Fire Safety and Engineering as well as programs where a student can transfer from a two-year program to a four-year college degree program. A good example locally is earned an Associate’s degree at CPCC transfer to UNCC.
Also, there are many individual certifications that must be earned, and follow-up courses for accreditations offered such as Firefighting I, Firefighting II, Hazardous Materials, Emergency Medical Technicians, Emergency Management, and much more. Continuing education courses are offered and encouraged to maintain a professional level of competency throughout a firefighters and EMT’s career. An EMT certainly can pursue a career as a paramedic or in nursing if they so desire. The vast majority of firefighters have become certified as EMTs as they are often first to arrive on the scene of an accident, medical emergency, or potentially hazardous incident.
Those who want to pursue the higher ranks such as Captain, Battalion Chief, Deputy Chief, and Chief of a Fire Department should seriously consider the opportunities offered in higher education and professional certifications to advance their chosen career to be better prepared for these opportunities. There is no substitute for real-world experience, but when combined, it makes an individual more qualified for these highly competitive positions.
“I started off as a volunteer and fell in love with being a firefighter/EMT,” said Mint Hill Fire Cheif David Leath. “I got hired by the Town of Mint Hill in 1996 and have never looked back. It gave me the opportunity to assist people in their time of need. To be able to do this in the community where I live has made the best career I could have ever imagined.”
Deputy Chief John Phillips added, a firefighter must be dedicated to the profession. It truly is not a job, it is a life calling. Much like the military we must be able to learn and retain information, we must be totally resolved to follow orders and absolutely must have a ‘mission first’ attitude.
The bottom line is this career takes a special individual to pursue. It is not a high-paying career; the average firefighter/EMT professional can make between $35,000 to $60,000 per year depending on experience, location, and education credits. Some big-city departments do pay higher salaries up to $75,000 or more. An average Fire Captain nationwide will make between $72,589-$93,864 according to an November 2021 salary survey. A paramedic, according to a nationwide November survey, will earn between $55,744-$74,766. Battalion Chief, Deputy Chief, and Fire Chief positions can all exceed $100,000 annually depending upon the size and location of the department.
Volunteers can be paid based on the time they actually serve; however, they still must obtain the mandatory qualifications and certifications to become a firefighter/EMT. The volunteer member must attend training sessions and keep their continuing education credits up to date. These individuals usually have another career or job in another field but want to serve their community and enjoy the camaraderie at a local fire station.
However, it’s not always about money. An individual can still make a good living: to many they have a strong desire to serve, to others it’s a family tradition going back generations, while some just have it in their heart, a solid belief and willingness to help others. To be part of something greater than themselves, to make a difference in someone’s life, to protect personal property, or have a positive impact within their city or local community.
It takes courage, knowledge, experience, and training to go toward danger into a fire while others are running away from the inferno.