Beginning Note: This article is about my experiences in a volunteer-based fire academy – not an academy for career firefighters.
I remember the first day I walked up to my local firehouse and obtained an application. What I thought would be an easy process turned into a bunch of hurdles – medical testing, meetings with other members, application fees, and so on – and I hadn’t even started my Firefighter I certification yet.
When I first started I had initial probationary training – some departments (mine did) do their own training prior to sending you to your local fire academy. After about six months of department probationary training (mixed with department trainings on top of it) I was allowed to finally go for my Firefighter I certification from my local fire academy. My academy: Suffolk County Fire Academy in Yaphank, NY – a one story brick building about ten minutes away. Initially it seemed small, but then I got to see the back area – a huge open area with constructed buildings including a tower, a house, a smoke house, another concrete building, a huge tank car, and much more.
But hold on – when taking the Fire Fighter I certification you don’t go straight to hands-on. First you are obligated to take an array of classroom classes that go over basic firefighting elements including: ventilation, ropes and knots, HazMat, ladders, hose line applications, self contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), and some more. HazMat alone had about four classes and a final test in itself. After everything you take a multiple choice written test.
The following is directly quoted from the Yaphank Fire Academy website pertaining to the Firefighter 1 certification:
“As the initial entry program for firefighting personnel, Firefighter I introduces firefighting concepts, practices and techniques necessary for success within the fire service. Based on the Firefighter Level 1 objectives from NFPA Standard 1001, this course develops knowledge, skills and abilities based on performance criteria for the following topics: fire department organization, firefighter safety, fire behavior, personal protective equipment, self-contained breathing apparatus, fire extinguishers, building searches, forcible entry, ground ladders, ventilation, hose practices, fire streams and loss control. This course consists of an addition 8 hands on performance sessions that cover the following: maze; SCBA emergencies, tools, knots and victim removal, ladders, hose handling, smoke discipline, fire extinguishers and vehicle fires.This course includes 3 CPR sessions that may be taken outside the Fire Academy and Hazardous Materials Operation. CPR is offered at the Academy on a monthly basis. A final exam concludes the program after all classroom and hands on sessions have been completed. The entire program must be completed within two years.NOTE: Prior to taking hands-on sessions, probationary firefighters must be certified by the Chief of their Department in the following areas: 1) qualified on the Department’s SCBA equipment and 2) is physically and medically fit to undertake the training and passed the Department’s required physical exam.”
As stated by their website, this course must be completed within 2 years – which isn’t that hard, really. The classes take up the majority of the time as they are spread out, and are walk-ins. However, the hands-on portion is schedule, and can be done within 2 weeks. For example, I went five days a week for two weeks straight to complete the hands-on portion, where the classrooms took me months upon months due to schedule conflictions and availability. As for CPR – I took that at my own fire department, and it was run by our then EMS Captain. If you do the CPR certification outside of the academy you must bring in a copy of the CPR card. The Hands On
The hands-on portion was the harder part of the Firefighter 1 certification, as it was sometimes physically enduring and psychologically pushing. For example, in the ladders class you need to go into a two story building, but the way in which the instructor makes you climb in the building you are facing down towards the ground the whole time and you may feel as if you’re going to fall. As for physically enduring – the hose line applications class takes a lot of energy, as you’ll be whipping around a 2 1/2 line with some other members and advancing it, and then doing some evolutions on an 1 3/4 line by running up stairs, stopping, opening up the hose line, closing, running more, and so on. The SCBA (Self Contained Breathing Apparatus) Emergencies class may be psychologically and physically enduring – as your mask is completely blacked out as they put you through a maze. The maze goes up a few stories and there are some very tight spots where you need to use advanced SCBA maneuvers to push through the course.
There are a few different ways to schedule your hands-on (which should be done in advance). I’ve heard that there is a two week-weekend only hands-on class option where you do multiple classes a day, each day of the weekend. Then there was my option – every weekday for two weeks. Remember – every fire academy is different, so call for scheduling options.
As for other portions of hands-on there is: smoke discipline, fire extinguishers, ropes and knots, ladders, search and rescue, forcible entry, and some more. Not all of these classes require you to wear the SCBA, but most of the time the instructors will tell you to wear it (without the mask on) anyway. Another piece of equipment they’ll regularly make you use are gloves – whether you’re manning a hose line or putting on your face mask, they’ll require you to wear them.
The Firefighter 1 certification is a great experience, and it’s well worth the time and effort to get through it. Upon completion you will be considered a certified firefighter. But remember – this is just the beginning. There are still more advanced classes to go through, and you should continue your training and utilize these resources. Education and learning is key in the field of firefighting, as well as continuous training and refreshment of firefighting based knowledge.