How to become a firefighter

There are various career paths that high school graduates can take; some may choose a typical desk job, but others may prefer a path of unpredictability and risk — like that of a firefighter.

According to Firefighter Edu, the top five reasons that people may want to pursue a career in fire safety are: to help their communities, to continue a family legacy, to pursue an adventurous career, for the sense of family and due to personal experiences.

There are roughly 1,134,400 active firefighters in the United States, according to Fire Rescue 1.

Bret Heller, a firefighter paramedic at Los Angeles County station 68 in Calabasas, said that in order to pursue a career as a firefighter, high school graduates can enroll in a community college with a firefighter or paramedic program and/or join an explorer program at a local fire station.

Locally, there is the Oxnard College Fire Academy and the Ventura College Paramedic Studies one can attend to pursue an education in this field.

Oak Park High School alumnus Jackson Dunn said that he wants to become a firefighter and is pursuing this career at the Oxnard College Fire Academy.

Dunn was a boy scout for eight years, from fifth to 12th grade, and said the program taught him basic first aid which started his journey toward becoming a firefighter. He was also a Ventura County Fire Cadet for six months at station 43 in Simi Valley.

“I got joy from helping someone else,” Dunn said. “When someone calls 911 it’s their worst day, and I want to be the person to help them out in that time.”

The Los Angeles Fire Department has an Explorer Program that “introduc[es] the youth of Los Angeles County to today’s fire and emergency medical services, emphasizing community service and civic involvement through positive mentoring, training, education and career development.” There are 22 Explorer locations in Los Angeles County.

OPHS alumnus and current Moorpark College sophomore Ross Vosberg is involved in the Explorer Program at Station 89 in Agoura Hills, and was selected to go to the Los Angeles County Explorer Academy. At that academy, Vosberg learned skills like how to throw a ladder, how to tie knots and how to fight a structure fire.

Since Vosberg has graduated from the Los Angeles County Explorer Academy, he is allowed to do 24-hour ride-alongs at fire stations. During the ride-along, he does drills or demonstrations to prove his knowledge of the equipment.

At Moorpark College, Vosberg takes an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) class and said that an aspiring firefighter must also complete the CPAT (Candidate Physical Ability Test) in order to apply for a firefighter position. The CPAT is an eight-part test that includes a stair climb, hose drag, equipment carry, ladder raise and extension, forcible entry, search, rescue drag and ceiling breach and pull.

According to the Firefighter Candidate Testing Center, “Participants in the CPAT must navigate eight separate events on a closed course within a span of 10 minutes and 20 seconds. Each event simulates a physical skill or function that firefighters experience on the job.”

Vosberg’s father, Kurt Vosberg, is a firefighter at Los Angeles City. Vosberg says that his dad “sparked” his interest.

“I try to do everything on my own,” Vosberg said. “If I manage to get hired one day, I want to say I was able to get it on my own and not through my dad’s help.”

La Reina High School junior Rachel Coleman is in the same Explorer Program as Vosberg.

Coleman wants to work in forensics or fire investigation within the fire department. The forensic team attends the area burned and determines the cause of the fire. Individuals who choose to work in fire investigation study topics including fire physics, psychology and arson behavior, according to Fire Science.

La Reina does not currently have a program to assist those who are interested in becoming firefighters, but Coleman is working toward forming a club for that purpose.

“[The club is] going to be more of the physical aspects, so more working out and training, and then promoting the Explorer Program to get more girls involved,” Coleman said.

Dunn said that aspiring firefighters “have to be working for it constantly.” He recommends taking the CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) and first aid classes at OPHS.

“If anyone is really interested in becoming a firefighter, it’s not just going to happen overnight,” Dunn said. “When you get that CERT [Community Emergency and Response] certification, it actually does look really good on a resume … you want to be doing everything you can to make that happen, no matter where you are.”

Heller actually did not decide that he wanted to become a firefighter until he was in college.

“I asked my college roommate what he was doing. We were both in ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps), army training in college, so we both had college scholarships through the military,” Heller said. “Afterwards, he decided to become a fireman and a paramedic, and I just kind of followed him.”

Heller said that being a firefighter is the “greatest job in the world.”

“There’s nobody happier than a firefighter at a fire. It’s very gratifying,” Heller said. “You’re helping people at a point in their life when they are [in] need more than any other time in their life.”