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Becoming a firefighter: choose the right school

Are you thinking of enrolling in a fire school but you’re not sure what course to take or what programs are best? Finding the answer can be difficult. It seems if you asked 10 different people these questions you would get 10 different answers and everyone would be right in some way.

December 13, 2007  By Kory Pearn

Kory Pearn is the author of The Complete Guide to Becoming a Firefighter, now in its second edition. Pearn also hosts Firefighter Career Expo, held twice a year in Ontario to give attendees a chance to network with chiefs and chief officers and learn from the experts how to land jobs in fire services.

Are you thinking of enrolling in a fire school but you’re not sure what course to take or what programs are best? Finding the answer can be difficult. It seems if you asked 10 different people these questions you would get 10 different answers and everyone would be right in some way.

It’s one thing to find a good fire school, but it’s another to find the right fire school. Choosing the perfect program will depend on such criteria as where you live geographically, because different provinces endorse different fire programs or schools. For example, if you would prefer to be hired on by a fire department in British Columbia then it’s recommended you attend a fire school in that province.

Financial Situation
You also have to consider your level of commitment and your financial situation. If you’re someone who has obligations to a young family as well as paying down a mortgage then realistically it may not be practical to enrol in a three-year, full-time post-secondary fire program. You may have to consider taking a condensed program, correspondence program or complete your course over an extended period of time. On the other hand, if you’re someone fresh out of high school then taking a longer post-secondary fire program will allow time for you to mature and gain some life experience. Both of these credentials will benefit you down the road in your pursuit to being a firefighter.


Questions to be asked
Having said this, you’re going to have to make some sacrifices, some big and some small. It’s these sacrifices that will help you widen the gap between you and your competition. When choosing a fire school or program, more questions need to be asked, such as: Does the province in which you want to work recognize the program? Does the program meet the proper standards? The last thing you want is to spend your time and money on a program that isn’t recognized or accredited. Provinces and organizations regulate the standards of fire training and accredit entities that teach to the standard. These regulations are in place to ensure that you receive a level of training that gives you a strong foundation in which to start your firefighting career.

There are three abbreviated organizations you’ll see throughout your recruitment process and fire career – NFPA, IFSTA and IFSAC. It’s important that you understand the relationship between them and their significance when choosing a program. The best way to look at a comparison of the three organizations is that the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) develops the standards, IFSTA (International Fire Service Training Association) develops training materials based on the NFPA standards, and IFSAC (International Fire Service Accreditation Council) accredits those organizations that certify firefighters based on NFPA standards as well as those institutions that offer fire-related degree programs. Read about these organizations and what they mean to firefighters in this indepth feature article in the January 2015 of Canadian Firefighter.

What is your goal?
Now that you have some understanding of the standards and the powers that govern the pre-fire service training, you have to decide what school you’re going to attend and if you’re eligible. There are a number of schools across Canada that offer firefighting programs. First, you need to decide what type of firefighter you want to be: structural, wildland, industrial, fire/medic, etc. Once you have decided the type of firefighter, you need to research the schools that offer programs in that field. Firefighting schools have come a long way in the last few years and the quality of training is standardized.

Talk to others
So as long as the school is recognized or accredited then you are on the right track. Another thing you should do is talk to others who have already been to fire schools and ask them what they thought of their experiences and the school. Some questions you may want to ask are:

  • How many students are in the classes?
  • What is the ratio between students and instructors?
  • Is there a lot of practical training?
  • How much do they prepare you for the real world? What do they do?
  • Is the school setting relaxed or very structured like the military?
  • Is extra help available if you need it?
  • Is the equipment in good condition and relevant?
  • Where will you live?
  • How will you get around? Should you drive or fly?
  • Is there a recreational facility available for use?
  • How long is the course?
  • Can you attend part-time or through correspondence?
  • How much does the course cost?

Having answers to these questions should make your decision easier. Gaining the experience in attending a post-secondary fire school was by far the best decision I ever made. I, like so many others, had to make sacrifices in order to attend fire school but it was worth it in the end. I know I wouldn’t be sitting here now if it wasn’t for that level of commitment I gave to make it happen. Take this advice and make it happen for you.

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