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Published: Jun 09, 2023 12 min read

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Finding and hiring firefighters can be especially tricky, given their unique skill set and the specialized needs of fire departments. But how do you go about identifying highly qualified candidates and eventually bringing them on board? We’ve teamed up with ZipRecruiter, one of the largest and best job sites for employers and employees alike, to outline the process.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll discuss how to go about hiring high-quality firefighters, covering topics including where to search for applicants, how to write a job description and how to retain employees once you hire them. Read on to learn everything you need to know about how to build and maintain the best firefighting team possible.

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What do firefighters do?

The role of firefighters involves responding to various emergencies such as fires, accidents and hazardous situations. They work together to put out fires, rescue those in danger, administer first aid and secure dangerous areas. Additionally, firefighters may educate on fire safety, enforce building codes and inspect structures to ensure compliance.

Most firefighters are required to be emergency medical technicians (EMTs), meaning they are trained in basic medical techniques and can provide first-aid services when necessary. Some organizations have even stronger prerequisites that require them to be certified paramedics before they are hired. Paramedics are trained to perform all of the duties of an EMT, as well as more advanced medical procedures such as administering medications and providing complicated life support techniques.

The firefighter hiring process

There are several steps you should take when hiring firefighters that will help ensure you find the best-qualified candidates that meet the needs of your fire department or organization. By following these steps, you will be able to customize your approach and create an effective hiring process that fits your organization’s unique situation.

Determine whether you need to hire full-time or part-time firefighters

Firefighters can range from full-time career employees to volunteers. Depending on the size and needs of your organization, you may need to hire either full-time or part-time firefighters.

A full-time firefighter typically works at least 40 hours per week and is eligible for benefits such as health insurance, retirement plans and paid time off. Part-time firefighters usually work a reduced number of hours, act as fill-in help when necessary or serve as volunteers. They also may not be eligible for the same benefits as full-time firefighters.

When deciding which type of firefighters to hire, you should also consider the budget and resources available for firefighter training as well as the particular needs of your fire department or organization. It often takes longer for part-time firefighters to complete their orientation training and become fully integrated into the team. In some cases, this can make having part-time firefighters a less efficient choice than simply hiring a few additional full-time firefighters.

Choose which type of firefighter you want to hire

Firefighters can have different specializations, each with its own set of skills and qualifications. For example, some firefighters specialize in hazardous materials, while others are trained to handle wildland fires. You should consider which type of firefighter would best fit your organization’s needs and budget before you begin the hiring process. The following is a list of some common firefighter specializations along with the skills and qualifications necessary for each:

  • Wildland firefighters: These firefighters have knowledge of fire behavior and suppression techniques, as well as experience working with wildland firefighting crews. They are usually responsible for controlling and suppressing wildfires, maintaining wildland firefighter tools such as chainsaws, responding to emergency incidents, mapping fires and performing search and rescue operations. Wildland firefighter jobs are often seasonal and require special training.
  • Paramedic firefighters: Paramedic firefighters undergo advanced medical training to respond efficiently to medical emergencies. They can administer medications, provide life support and perform advanced medical procedures. To qualify for this role, one must be certified as an EMT or paramedic through a state-approved certification program.
  • Firefighter trainees: Firefighter trainees are individuals hired by a fire department who have not yet received certification as full firefighters. The trainees are required to complete the department's initial training program, firefighter exam, and certification process to ensure they are well-prepared for the job.
  • Fire chiefs: Individuals known as fire chiefs hold the highest position within a particular fire department or division. Their duties include supervising both the operational and administrative aspects of the fire department, such as managing finances, personnel and equipment. Successful fire chiefs must possess advanced knowledge of firefighting techniques and protocols, as well as experience leading teams of firefighters.

Search for candidates to fill your firefighter role

As with any job search, there are a variety of options available for finding qualified firefighter candidates. You may be able to find potential firefighters through local recruitment events, job postings on websites or word-of-mouth referrals from fellow firefighters. It is important to thoroughly evaluate each individual’s experience and always implement best practices for using an applicant tracking system (ATS). Whether you're posting for entry-level firefighter jobs or for experienced fire chiefs, the next sections will detail some of the most effective ways to recruit for a firefighter position.

Career pages

Career pages are an excellent way to find qualified candidates for your firefighter job. These pages provide a comprehensive overview of the position, its requirements, its pay and any other pertinent information that candidates need to know. They also provide a detailed job description, including the specific duties and responsibilities of the position along with the expectations for performance and any special qualifications that applicants must possess.

When considering how to create a better career page, you should also include a brief overview of the organization or fire department and its mission, as well as any benefits or incentives that the organization offers to successful candidates. This is your chance to set yourself apart from other employers by highlighting the unique features of your department, demonstrating why it’s a desirable place to work and communicating a sense of pride in the organization’s goals, values and culture.

Employee referrals

Employee referrals are often one of the strongest sources for recruiting high-quality firefighters. Current firefighters may know of other qualified candidates, either from their own network or from the broader firefighting community. This is an especially effective option if there are particular skill sets or experience levels you are looking for that may be difficult to find through other venues. In many cases, employee referrals bring a greater sense of trust in the potential candidate, as they have already been vetted by an existing member of the team.

Job board sites

Just a quick search of the term "full time jobs near me" can reveal a range of job board sites that may be the key to finding the right candidate for your firefighting role. Posting job openings on the best job posting sites for employers will help you reach a wider pool of candidates. However, it is important to use these sites strategically, as you want candidates who are truly qualified and motivated to take on the role.

As such, be sure to clearly and accurately describe the job and its responsibilities, as well as any necessary qualifications or firefighter skills that applicants should possess. Additionally, you should provide clear details regarding the application process and what materials they will need to submit (e.g., CV, cover letter, references, certifications, etc.). This will help ensure that the candidates you review are those who are truly serious about obtaining the position.

Write a detailed firefighter job description

Once you have identified potential sources for finding candidates, the next step is to create a detailed job description. By using a thorough firefighter job description template, you can provide applicants with an accurate understanding of what is expected of them, as well as any associated responsibilities or qualifications that are needed for the role. Your job description should also include a summary of the duties and objectives associated with the position, as well as any other pertinent information such as salary range and benefits.

Having trouble getting started on your job description? ZipRecruiter, one of the best job posting sites for employers, offers several templates you can use to guide you in creating a job description that will attract qualified candidates.

Prepare a list of firefighter interview questions and interview candidates

By preparing a list of questions related to the role before you begin interviewing candidates, you will be able to quickly and efficiently evaluate their qualifications for the job. Make sure to include questions related to the specific skills and responsibilities required for the job, as well as any other inquiries that may be necessary to assess their suitability for the role.

It is also important to ask behavioral interview questions that will give you insight into their personality and working style, as these qualities are vital when evaluating how the applicant will fit into your existing team. For example, you might ask about previous experiences with teamwork, how they have handled difficult challenges in the past or how they would respond in a particular emergency situation.

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Complete drug screenings and background checks

Finally, it is critical that all potential firefighters go through drug screenings and background checks to ensure the safety of the department. Drug screenings will help you determine if the candidate is physically fit and free from any substances that may affect their performance on the job.

Background checks are important for verifying the applicant’s identity and ensuring they do not have a criminal record or other history that could be problematic when hiring them. Not all background checks are equal, so be sure to research your options and select one of the best background check sites available.

Firefighter FAQ

What are the average hiring costs for firefighters?

Sourcing, hiring, and training firefighters is an expensive undertaking, not to mention the costs of outfitting them with all of the protective firefighter gear. This makes investing in the right recruitment and onboarding process essential. Costs will vary depending on the particular department and position, but they can range from several thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars per position. This does not include the actual salary of the firefighter.

How much do firefighters make?

There is somewhat of a large range when it comes to firefighter pay. These costs can be impacted by factors such as the size of the organization and the location of the department. According to recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median national salary for firefighters was $51,680, with a median hourly wage of $24.85. The 90th percentile had an annual salary of $84,750 ($40.75 hourly wage), while the 10th percentile received an annual salary of $29,150 ($14.02 hourly wage).

Do volunteer firefighters get paid?

Due to restrictions from the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), volunteer firefighters are not considered employees or contractors. Thus, they do not receive hourly wages or annual salaries. However, they may receive monthly stipends or per-call payments as compensation for their services. The amount of these stipends varies widely, ranging from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars depending on the organization. In addition, some volunteer firefighters receive benefits such as health insurance, pensions, workers' compensation and life insurance.

How many hours do firefighters work?

Full-time firefighters typically work 24-hour shifts with a 48-hour break in between each shift. Many full-time firefighters have work schedules that include 9 or 10 of these shifts in a month. In some cases, 12-hour shifts are also common. Part-time or volunteer firefighters usually work fewer hours, depending on their availability and the needs of their department.

What is a firefighter endorsement and should your candidates have one?

A firefighter endorsement is a type of specialized driver's license endorsement issued by the DMV of some states that allows firefighters to operate emergency vehicles, firetrucks and other types of vehicles used by fire departments. Many of these vehicles would typically require a commercial driver's license (CDL) to operate, but the endorsement makes it possible for firefighters to operate them without having to obtain a CDL. Depending on the state your organization is in, having it as a requirement may help ensure that your candidates are more prepared and qualified to operate these vehicles in emergency situations.

What are common firefighter hiring disqualifications?

The most common disqualifications for potential firefighters include extensive criminal records, a history of substance abuse, physical conditions that may impede their ability to do the job, failure to pass background checks or drug tests and lying about or omitting information on their application. Additionally, certain driving offenses, such as a DUI, may disqualify potential candidates from being hired for a certain number of years after the offense.

Summary of Money's how to hire firefighters

As with any other type of recruiting, hiring firefighters requires careful consideration and research. Organizations are only as strong and effective as the personnel they employ. Thus, building out robust sourcing, hiring and training strategies is critical for finding the right candidates for firefighter positions. Whether this means learning how to document proper training for new employees and how to conduct background checks or utilizing job boards and well-written career pages to attract talented candidates, organizations should be prepared to invest the necessary time and resources in order to find the right personnel. If structured with care, the hiring experience can result in a group of firefighters that are dedicated, prepared and well-suited to protect the community.