Do you know that Illinois has more than 1300 fire departments and not all departments are the same?
Your quest of how to become a firefighter in Illinois must start with knowing the types of fire agencies available at Illinois, both Fire Departments and Fire Protection Districts.
A Fire Department is generally a real department of a town, city or village, governed by the mayor of the municipality or the city board or council. On the other hand, a Fire Protection District is completely a separate governmental unit with independent governing body, but depends on receiving their funds from the budget of a municipality.
Before I discuss about how to become a firefighter in Illinois, let’s have a look on various available types of fire agencies all through the state:
Volunteer Fire Departments in Illinois: Most of the fire departments in Illinois are volunteer fire departments which are easier to join than a paid one. The rules of different departments may vary but commonly you will have to be a resident of the state, attend training sessions arranged by the department, regular visit and responding at the department during emergency situation, and many more.
Paid-on-Call Fire Departments in Illinois: are actually a combination of paid and volunteer fire departments. POC’s usually acts as a volunteer firefighter when performing various supporting functions for the department, but get paid when responding in emergency situations on an hourly or per call basis. Joining in both volunteer and POC firefighting in Illinois, you must contact the department near your locality.
Part-time Fire Departments in Illinois: employ firefighters in a shifting basis. During the scheduled hours, firefighters have to perform all sorts of jobs starting from training to take part in actual fire extinguishing activities. To know the particular requirements, you should contact your local fire department.
Full-time Fire Departments in Illinois: appoint full-time firefighters or career firefighters through various testing process who are also known as the employees of the fire department. If you want to become a full-time firefighter in Illinois, you just can’t apply anytime you want, rather, you must apply the concerned department on its specified time frame. In most cases, the fire departments in Illinois call for application and run the testing process once in every two years. After having all application within the time frame, candidates should go through a series of tests such as written exams, tests on physical abilities, psychological exams, etc.
Contract Firefighters in Illinois: are generally a full-time firefighter, but not an employee of the department, rather, firefighters are employed by another contract company and when any fire department asks for firefighters, these contract companies supply them. In that case, the contract firefighter will wear the uniform of the department, ride on there vehicles, but will get the paycheck from the contract company. Getting a contract firefighting job in Illinois is easier than full time since generally the contract company never makes the testing process that severe.
Combination Fire Departments in Illinois: may consist of any combination of the above fire department types.
Age limit to be a firefighter in Illinois is 21 to 35 in most fire departments. However, the age limit may be 35 years for highly qualified personnel who have experience of working as a full-time firefighter on another department.
Education Required to Become a Firefighter in Illinois: may depend on what area you live in the state. Volunteer fire departments in rural Illinois barely require any education or certification in order to encourage recruitment and train the firefighters later after getting them hired. Alternatively, most paid fire departments will not even allow a candidate to attend the test except some minimum education, certification or licenses.
EMS or Emergency Medical Services Training is a must for becoming a career firefighter in Illinois. In some parts of Illinois, many fire departments require a candidate to be a paramedic too to become a firefighter. Not only that, there are a lot of part-time, contract service and even many POC as well as volunteer fire departments may require you to be a paramedic or at least an EMT to become a firefighter in Illinois.
Basic Operations Firefighter or Firefighter II certification is an entry level training for firefighters in Illinois. Firefighter II is the former name of BOF and a lot of paid fire departments in Illinois require candidates to be certified as BOF or FFII before even allowing them to apply or test for hiring in that fire department.
Fire Science Degree can ensure a career firefighter job to an applicant is a common perception of many people which is completely wrong. Applicant with a college degree may have some preference points to many fire departments or there are some departments that may require few random college credits when applying, but such college degree can’t ensure a large advantage for passing the firefighter entry exam. Rather, fire science degrees can be more fruitful for existing experienced firefighters for various purposes.
CPAT or Candidate Physical Ability Test is a must have certification for some fire departments in Illinois when hiring full-time firefighters. This is a very physically challenging series of tests done by third party institutions that provides a certificate with an expiry date after completion of the entire test. The number of fire departments asking for CPAT certification when hiring firefighters is increasing day by day. Since the test require few weeks, you must obtain it ahead of time unless you may want to miss the deadline of applying simply because your CPAT is not going to be finished in time.
The key is to stay tuned and be up-to-date with the local fire department about minimum requirements and application schedule which will give you the best result of your search for how to become a firefighter in Illinois.