Each and every day, the selfless service of firefighters across the nation helps keep our communities safe. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were approximately 332,400 firefighter jobs in the U.S. in 2018 — and the profession is expected to grow by 5% over the next decade. If you're ready to join the forces of these courageous first responders, here's your complete guide to becoming a firefighter.

Meeting the basic eligibility requirements

In order to become a firefighter in the U.S., you'll have to be at least 18 years old (or 21 in some municipalities). You'll need to hold a valid driver's license, a high school diploma or GED, and a clean criminal record. Keep in mind that requirements vary across different cities and states. You'll also need to possess a few essential qualities, like the compassion and courage it takes to help others in the face of danger.

Getting involved as a volunteer firefighter

Many career firefighters began as volunteers. While volunteering isn't usually required, it can be an excellent first step. There may opportunities to help your local department with public outreach, assist at the station or go for the occasional ride-along. You'll get to know other career firefighters, familiarize yourself with the day-to-day, and make sure the trade is right for you.

"The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.""The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement."

Pursuing the right education

You'll have a lot to learn if you want to become a firefighter. You'll need to know all about the equipment and how fires spread, and you'll have to be up to date on emergency management techniques, local building codes and best practices for educating the public. You can study fire science through a technical college or four-year degree program, although a degree isn't always required. Alternatively, you can attend a local fire academy. The U.S. Fire Administration certifies programs across the U.S. and even offers online courses.

Getting physically fit

The work of a firefighter is strenuous, so you'll need to get into shape. To meet the fitness requirements, focus on building muscular strength and endurance, cardiovascular fitness and a flexible range of motion. You'll likely undertake a conditioning program if you join a fire academy, and you'll prove your readiness by taking the Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT).

Earning the necessary certifications

In addition to the CPAT, you'll typically need to be CPR certified. Most fire departments will also require that you become certified as either an emergency medical technician (EMT) or paramedic. You'll also need to become a certified firefighter, which you can either do through your fire academy or through one of the certification courses offered by the National Fire Protection Agency. Veterans are eligible to have their course fees waived.

Acing the application process

Once you're ready to start applying for jobs, you'll have to pass a series of tests in order to get hired. You'll take a written exam, which will test things like your problem-solving and critical thinking abilities, communication skills, memory and interpersonal skills — all things you'll rely on when on the job. Additionally, you'll need to pass physical and psychological screenings as well as a background check and a drug test. Plus, you'll have a few in-person interviews with members of the department.

Once you kick off your career as a firefighter, the journey doesn't stop there. You may eventually advance in the profession, to engineer or lieutenant, and you may have the chance to take on leadership roles on your way to becoming a fire chief.