Division Chief Paul Lepore

Age and Becoming a Firefighter

Everyone has an opinion of age when it comes to hiring new firefighters. Some people feel that a younger candidate has a better chance of getting hired because; after all, the fire departments are looking to hire a candidate for the next 30 years.

If a fire department hires a 21 or 22 year old, the department can train the recruit before he or she has a chance to develop “bad” habits. Furthermore, since the agency wants to get the most money for its training dollars, hiring a firefighter at a young age ensures that it will get at least 30 years of service out of him or her.

Younger candidates generally have fewer personal and financial obligations, and are more likely to have the free time to pursue relevant education and training prior to being hired. This is highly prized by many departments, as they do not have to pay for it. Younger firefighters are generally in better physical condition. They will do well in high impact areas of the community where the job is very physically demanding. In addition, they will usually work out in the station, which can be contagious to the other firefighters. Ultimately they may be the cause of the entire shift working out together.

Younger firefighters are often very concerned about eating properly and are more educated about nutrition. Quite commonly, older firefighters pay little attention to healthy eating in the fire station. A younger firefighter may educate the crew about eating turkey burgers instead of ground beef, or on the importance of taking vitamins.

Additionally, hiring younger firefighters minimizes the chances of hiring an employee with a pre-existing injury. It is true that a pre-employment medical exam will identify many of these injuries; however, with the implementation of the Americans With Disabilities Act, agencies are not failing nearly as many candidates as in years past. Since many candidates have successfully litigated and won a job, medical disqualifications have become less frequent.

The converse to these potential benefits is the fact that a younger candidate has spent the majority of his or her life at home with minimal responsibilities. Predictably, this will not be well received in a fire station. This is especially true since it is expected that the rookie is the one who makes sure all of the little things are done around the station. These are the same things that mom did at home for him or her.

Another factor when dealing with “younger” candidates is the fact that they are going to be living and working with mature (relatively speaking) adults. It can be difficult for a younger person to fit in with a group of older adults, especially firefighters.

Fitting in is difficult to begin with, especially when you consider that a respected member of the crew may have been moved to another station to make room for the new firefighter. The displaced crewmember probably contributed to the chemistry and cohesiveness of the crew, and now an “outsider” has been assigned.

Maturity is an important quality for a young firefighter. Since he or she has usually led a sheltered life while in college or living at mom and dad’s, it is likely that the rookie simply does not have extensive life experience. Imagine what you were like 5 years ago. How about 10 years ago? How much have your values and work ethic changed? I guarantee you are a different person. You have matured by virtue of your life experiences.

An older applicant, on the other hand, will usually fit in much better than a younger one. He or she has spent years in the work force learning what it takes to get along, and has learned acceptable social behavior through “life experience.”

Many departments prefer “older” candidates to younger ones. Since these departments are looking to hire firefighters with life experience, older candidates fit the bill. An older candidate will do whatever it takes to earn (and keep) the job. A candidate with more work experience may have a greater appreciation of his or her new job on the fire department.

Many older candidates have worked in a variety of difficult jobs. These range from roofing, carpentry, plastering or working behind a desk in corporate America. All of these jobs may include long hours, inadequate pay, little or no medical benefits, minimal flexibility, poor job security and, oftentimes, minimal job satisfaction.

A career in the fire service offers good pay and benefits, job security and retirement as well as job satisfaction. Hiring a more mature firefighter gives you a rookie who feels like he or she got a new lease on his or her employment life.

Older firefighters usually bring a lot to the job. If they have spent their lives working in the trades, they bring knowledge of plumbing, electrical and carpentry, as well as the skills of using various hand and power tools.

Most importantly, older firefighters generally fit in with the crew more easily than younger firefighters. Their life experience gives them a strong platform on which to base their career.

A candidate who is considering leaving an established job has a lot to lose. Add a mortgage payment, a spouse, and a couple of children to the equation, and this candidate has a lot on the line. The candidate is taking a pay cut, losing benefits and most importantly, losing job security. It is not likely that an employer will give an employee back his or her job after leaving it.

People who have a lot at stake make terrific employees. It doesn’t matter how hard things get, he or she is going to have the drive to succeed. There is just too much to lose.

As you can see, there are benefits to hiring both younger and older candidates in the fire service. My personal belief is that most fire departments prefer to hire rookie firefighters who are in their late twenties to early thirties. Being married and owning a home strengthens their profile. Having a couple of children completes the equation.

This is not to say that candidates in their early 20’s or early 40’s will not be considered; they will simply have to demonstrate that they are the exception to the rule. It’s up to the candidates to demonstrate that their personality traits, maturity and experience make them the best choice for the job. A fire department will consider much more than age when making a hiring decision.

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19 Responses

  1. Ryan Says:
    December 29th, 2010 at 5:47 PM

    Hello Chief Lepore: Thanks for the outstanding blog posting. I do see both sides to the coin on either hiring a young or an older firefighter. I just turned 40 years old and been trying to pursue my career as a paid full time firefighter off and on for the past 20 years with no luck. I graduated from the Rio Hondo Fire Academy. I am a current O.C EMT, current CPR. I take the CPAT physical agility every 6 months to stay in shape and stay certified. I am in the gym 4 days a week working out with weights and I am a avid advanced mountain biker to keep up with my cardio. I also have my firefighter I cert and have 6 years experience as an explorer and a reserve firefighter with several cities in the past. I also volunteer my time with the South Orange County Fire Watch Program for OCFA out in Trabuco Canyon.

    I just finished up my Fire Service Degree from Santa Ana College back in 2009 and I have one more year to obtain my bachelors degree.

    Can you give me some suggestions at this point? Also, any advice on the economy when departments are going to start hiring again. My opinion is that you can have all of the certs,school,experience,degrees, and the drive to pursue the ultimate career in the world, but if there is no jobs, then there is nothing nobody can do. Thanks

  2. Steve Says:
    January 3rd, 2011 at 9:00 AM

    I have been testing for years too when it comes to getting a firefighting career. I am too getting into my late 30’s and time is ticking away. Sometimes in life things are just not meant to be. This career is probably the hardest position to ever obtain. The competition is just so tough. I do believe that not everyone will get their chance to become a firefighter. You always have to have a backup plan. Just in-case this career never happens. You do have go on with life and get a job and pay your bills and support your family. You just have to face reality.

    Our economy have been in the dumps for a few years now. I do believe that career fire department personel dont realize what we are faced againts since they already have their positions and have been on the force for years now. With the highest un-employment rates since the great depression, county and city cut backs, fire departments closing stations, and fur-low days for city and county workers, there is no end in sight. That is just reality at this point.

    I think in a realistic world, not a fantasy world. I do believe that some of these jobs will never come back from this horrible economic conditions that we all live in. This is the new normal now.

    Just remeber at the end of the day to up-hold your moral standards and just be a good honest person. Always help somebody in need. We are all on this earth together, and we need to give back in some way. Always remember to have a backup plan. Educate yourself and go to college and get either a AA degree or a bachelors degree and keep moving forward. This earth doesnt stop for anyone, nor will it ever.

    Just a thought for the day. Sit back and think about the big picture.

    The fire service is not the end of road, it might just be a stepping stone to find out your real passion in life. Good Luck Everyone.

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  10. Robert Says:
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    Hi, I am 23 years of age, I am hoping to have my fire associates degree by the end of the year. December to be exact. I have been thinking and stressing out over going to paramedic school after I graduate but i put my self in the position were, when I’m done with medic school I will be 26 years of age. I am also bilingual Spanish/ English. What advice can you give me. Thank you for you time and help.

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    February 3rd, 2012 at 2:22 AM

    Hi, I am 23 years of age, I am hoping to have my fire associates degree by the end of the year. December to be exact. I have been thinking and stressing out over going to paramedic school after I graduate but i put my self in the position were, when I’m done with medic school I will be 26 years of age. I am also bilingual Spanish/ English. What advice can you give me. Thank you for you time and help. I also want to add, is going to medic school help me really get hired on?

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