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How To Become a Firefighter in California (CA)

So you want to know how to become a firefighter in California (CA). Be it Los Angeles, Sacramento, or any other city in the state of California, the requirements and procedures for becoming a firefighter are very similar. Keep in mind that it might take quite some time (even a few years) for you to be hired even after you successfully pass the entire application process, as the firefithers waiting list is California is quite large.

Finding Fire Departments in California

As always, your first step is locating the California fire departments you’d like to work at. Some departments make it a requirement that you should be a resident of the jurisdiction where they operate, while other fire departments will not have such a requirement. Please use this California fire department location tool to find everything you need, including contact details and information regarding the number of employed firefighters.

Requirements To Become a Firefighter in California

The following requirements are more or less the same for any fire department in California, including Sacramento, Los Angeles, and other locations:

  • You must be 18 years or older.
  • A US high school diploma or G.E.D.
  • Valid driver’s license (local one might be required by some fire departments).
  • A valid EMT license must be presetend prior to being officially hired.
  • In many locations – Los Angeles for example – fire departments will require that you be a non-smoker.
  • Must successfully pass drug panels.

Contact the fire department(s) of your choice to find out about any other, department-specific application requirements.

Is a Fire Degree Required To Become a Firefighter in California?

A fire science degree is not officially required. Consider, however, that the fire service in California is extremely competitive, and therefor anything you can do to differentiate yourself will noticeably increase your chances of being hired. There are two ways to achieve the necessary training: either become a volunteer firefighter and/or acquire a fire degree. There are many fire courses available in California community colleges, though there are also specialized fire academies available. Here are a few of the more respected ones:

While a fire degree is not required, you will need to complete Firefighter I / II training before you can start working as a professional California firefighter. This training usually lasts around 30 weeks (close to 400 hours in total) and must be finished before your probationary period is over.

Application Process

If you meet the minimum requirements for becoming a firefighter in California, contact your fire department of choice and inquire about their application dates. Depending on the department, recruitement may take place once a year, or once every several years. You’ll need to provide some basic information on the application, as well as more detailed information pertaining to your education, work experience, encounters with the law, and also provide contact information to people close to you so that a background check can be completed later on in the hiring process.

California Firefighters Written Test

The written exam you will need to take is very similar to that which aspiring firefighters take all around the country. Mostly a multiple-choices test, with some sections aimed at testing your comprehensive reading skills, will cover the following:

  • Your basic knowledge about first aid
  • Ability to solve basic arithmetics problems
  • Your ability to interpret basic maps
  • Your knowledge about very general issues related to the fire service

If you do a quick search online (Amazon.com for example) you will find some books that will help you prepare for the test, although there isn’t that much you can do in this regard other than read up a bit about the fire service and remind yourself of how to manually conduct basic fractions and percentile calculations.

People who submit an application will be inormed about the upcoming written exam dates.

CPAT (Candidate Physical Ability Test) certification

Many fire departments in California will require that you submit proof of successful completion of the CPAT as soon as you pass your written exam and before the live interview is conducted, though some departments will accept a CPAT certificate later in the recruitement process. The test costs around $150; though basic training and tips will be provided before you take the test, it’s up to you to physically prepare yourself for the tasks you’ll be doing.

There are 8 events involved in the CPAT, which must all be completed in sequence and in less than 10 minutes and 20 seconds. No scores are given – you either pass the test in the alloted time or you don’t. If you fail to complete any of the events properly, the test is aborted and its considered failed. Events you’ll participate in include:

  • Climbing Stairs
  • Dragging a hose
  • Lifting 35+ lbs. heavy firefighting equipment and moving it across a ~30 yard distance
  • Raising and extending a ladder
  • Forcing an entry (you will use a 15 lbs. sledge hammer to hit a surface and the force will be measured)
  • Crawling through a tight space to reach a dummy fire victim
  • Dragging a 180 lbs. dummy across a predetermined distance
  • Breaching a ceiling

Please note that while there are other tests similar to the CPAT, some fire departments will only accept a CPAT certification exclusively (this holds true in Los Angeles, for example). You can have the CPAT administered in the following locations (among others):

You can find out more about the CPAT by clicking here – this page includes valuable information including costs, test dress code, and administration locations.

Oral Interview

If you have made it this far, an oral interview will be conducted by chiefs of the California fire department where you are applying. This is pretty much like a regular job interview: you’ll be asked about your interests, why you want to become a firefighter in California, and your general knowledge of the fire service will be assessed as well.

Background Check And Physical Test For California Firefighters

Those who successfully pass the oral interview (of which there can be either one or two, depending on the department) will move on to the next phase, during which a thorough background interview will be conducted by the department. Future firefighters must exhibit traits of an exemplary citizen, have no prior problems with the law, and be considered loyal and helpful by their friends and family members.

While your background check is being performed (or right after it), a thorough physical will be performed by a physician designated by the California fire department where you are applying. Expect the tests to last a full day in some cases, and to have your body fat measured (it must be in a healthy range for your gender and height), your performance on a treadmill examined, blood and urine tests taken, vision tested, to name a few.

What Happens Now?

If you have passed everything with flying colors so far, you will be placed on a waiting list to become a probationary firefighter in California. Depending on the fire department, it make take a few weeks or up to a few years before you are called in for your probation. It’s always a good idea to ask the fire department you are applying at about the average wait time on their list before commit to their recruitement process.

How To Become a Firefighter in Los Angeles?

The procedures for becoming a firefighter in Los Angeles are exactly as outlined above, while keeping in mind that your CPAT certification will need to be presented as soon as you pass your written firefighting examination, otherwise you won’t be allowed to attend the oral interview phase. Having a U.S. citizenship is not required to become a firefighter in Los Angeles, although you must have paperwork that would allow you to legally work in the States (for example: green card or a work visa). Other than a high school diploma or a G.E.D. equivalent, a California High School Proficiency Examination certificate will also qualify you to become a firefighter in Los Angeles.

Additionally, Los Angeless firefighters are required to abstain from using Tobacco in any form for the entire duration of their career in the fire service.

What Is The Average Salary of a California Firefighter?

According to BLS.gov, there are 26,550 employed firefighters in California as of 2012, with a mean annual wage of $72,540, making it one of the most profitable (income-wise) locations for firefighters in the world. The top 10% of firemen in California earned close to $100,000 a year back in 2011.

How To Become a Firefighter in California – Summary

Though the wait time can be considerable, becoming a California fireman is most definitely worth it, both from a salary standpoint as well as the satisfaction you’ll get from helping such a huge community. Any questions you may have, please ask them in the comments below or use the contact form and we’ll help you out.

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