Should I Become a Firefighter in Chicago?

Firefighters put their lives at risk to put out fires. They are normally the first people at the site whenever a fire breaks out. Yes, they wear protective gear and use the best equipment, but the job of a firefighter is still full of risks. 16,210 firefighters were working in the state of Illinois in 2022 as per the data by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Featured Programs and Schools

Education RequiredHigh school education or an equivalent GED will suffice.
TrainingFire Academy Training is needed.
Licenses/CertificationsEMT and CRT Certification.
Key Skills/QualitiesPhysical Stamina, Strong Decision Making, Quick Thinking, etc.
Annual Mean Salary (2019) – National$56,310
Job Outlook (2019-2029)4%
Annual Mean Salary (2019) –Illinois$68,030

Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

Eligibility Requirements for Chicago Fire Personnel

Following are the eligibility requirements:

  • Must be at least 21 years old
  • Must have completed high school. This is the minimum educational requirement for becoming a firefighter in Chicago. If you don’t have a high school diploma (HSD), then the equivalent GED certificate is acceptable too
  • Must possess a valid Illinois driving license. If you don’t have one at the time of applying, then you will have to obtain one by the time of appointment
  • Must hold legal American nationality, be it on the basis of naturalization or birth
  • Must not be a convicted felon nor have any other kind of criminal record anywhere in the United States
  • Must be a resident of Chicago. This is not mandatory when applying. However, once appointed to the firefighting force, all employees are obligated to live within the Chicago city limits
  • Must clear the Chicago civil service test. This is a written assessment designed to evaluate candidates’ proficiency in reading comprehension, basic mathematics, vocabulary and grammar
  • Must obtain a good score on the Candidate Physical Abilities Test (CPAT)
  • Must clear all background checks

Steps to Become a Firefighter in Chicago

The Chicago Fire Department (CFD) is one of the largest public service departments among the 1,108 Illinois fire units listed at the National Fire Department Registry. The CFD is always striving to keep the numbers of fire fatalities down. If you believe you have something to offer to this great organization, you have to complete the following steps:

Step 1: Complete the Required Education

All aspiring firefighters in Chicago must have at least a high school diploma or an equivalent GED certificate.

Step 2: Get the EMT Certification

You will also have to obtain a valid Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) certificate.

Step 3: Clear the CPAT

To become a firefighter in Chicago, you will also have to pass the Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT).

Step 4: Apply for the Job

The next step is to apply for the job at the fire station of your choice.

Step 5: Clear the Screening Process

Every fire department has its own screening process. Generally, all aspiring firefighters have to clear a written test, an interview, a background examination, drug screening, medical examination, and a psychological evaluation.

Step 6: Take Part in Fire Academy Training

Once you clear all the steps mentioned above, you will have to take part in training at an approved fire academy. The training duration varies from fire department to fire department.

Career Opportunities for Firefighters in Chicago

In Chicago, firefighters have a variety of career opportunities and advancement paths. The Chicago Fire Department (CFD) is one of the largest municipal fire departments in the United States, and thus, offers a range of positions and specializations. Here’s an overview of potential career opportunities and paths for firefighters in Chicago:

  • Entry-Level Firefighter: This is where most firefighters start their careers. As an entry-level firefighter, you’ll respond to fires, medical emergencies, and other incidents, working with a team to ensure the safety of the public.
  • Firefighter/Paramedic: Some firefighters train to become paramedics, allowing them to provide advanced medical care at the scene of emergencies.
  • Specialized Units: The CFD has several specialized units, including:
  • Hazardous Materials (HazMat) Team: Deals with hazardous materials incidents.
  • Dive Team: Responds to water-related emergencies.
  • Technical Rescue Team: Specializes in rescues involving confined spaces, high angles, and trenches.
  • Promotional Opportunities: As firefighters gain experience, they can take promotional exams to move up the ranks. These can include positions such as:
  • Engineer: Responsible for operating the fire truck and ensuring that water gets to the hoses.
  • Lieutenant: A first-level supervisory position, leading a company of firefighters.
  • Captain: Oversees multiple companies or units.
  • Battalion Chief: Manages multiple stations or a district.
  • Division Chief, Deputy District Chief, and District Chief: Higher ranks with increasing responsibilities.
  • Assistant Deputy Fire Commissioner and Deputy Fire Commissioner: Top administrative positions.
  • Fire Prevention and Public Education: Firefighters may choose to move into roles focusing on fire prevention, which includes inspecting buildings for fire code violations and educating the public about fire safety.
  • Training Academy: Experienced firefighters can become instructors at the CFD Training Academy, teaching new recruits and providing ongoing education to current department members.
  • Administrative and Support Roles: Firefighters can move into administrative positions, working in areas like planning, logistics, or public information.
  • Outside the Department: The skills and experiences gained as a firefighter are valuable in many settings. Firefighters can transition into careers in emergency management, private fire protection services, fire safety consulting, or positions with federal agencies such as FEMA.

Remember, the specific paths available can vary based on department needs, personal interests, and individual qualifications. Like many careers, networking, continuous learning, and taking on additional responsibilities can aid in advancement.

Lastly, for those seeking positions within the Chicago Fire Department, it’s essential to stay updated on hiring processes, eligibility requirements, and exam dates. The city’s official website and the CFD’s own website are good resources for this information.

How to apply to be a Chicago fire fighter?

Once you complete all the requirements, you will have to apply for the position of Chicago firefighter. The only way to apply is online. You can find the application form on the City of Chicago’s website. Make sure you fill the form carefully so, that there are no issues with your application.

How Long Is Needed to Join the Chicago Fire Department (CFD)?

The CFD’s firefighter training program is usually 6 to 7 months long. On top of that, the initial screening and applicant shortlisting process takes a few months. So, you will need about 8 to 12 months to become a part of the Chicago Fire Department, depending on the availability of the positions.

What Salary Is Paid to a Firefighter in Chicago?

According to the City of Chicago website, the starting salary of a firefighter in Chicago is $62,160 per year as of June 30, 2021. After 5 years on the job this income can go up to $92,796 per year.

Firefighting Schools in Chicago

Chicago has several institutions that offer firefighting and emergency services training, either directly or through associated programs. Here’s a list of some firefighting schools and training institutions in and around Chicago:

Chicago Fire Department Training Academy

As the primary training institution for the Chicago Fire Department (CFD), the Academy provides comprehensive training for new firefighter recruits. This includes instruction on firefighting techniques, emergency medical services, and specialized rescue operations.

Richard J. Daley College

Part of the City Colleges of Chicago, Daley College offers programs in Fire Science Technology. The programs are designed to provide foundational knowledge and skills for individuals pursuing a career in firefighting or for current firefighters looking to advance in their careers.

City Colleges of Chicago – Malcolm X College

Malcolm X College, another member of the City Colleges of Chicago, has programs related to emergency medical services, which are critical for firefighters who often serve as first responders at emergency scenes.

Moraine Valley Community College

Located in the nearby suburb of Palos Hills, this college offers a Fire Science Technology program. The curriculum is designed both for those new to the field and current firefighters seeking further education.

Triton College

Located in River Grove, just outside Chicago, Triton College has a Fire Science program. They offer both degree and certificate programs, and their training facilities include a burn tower for live fire training exercises.

Prairie State College

Located in Chicago Heights, Prairie State College offers a Fire Science program, which includes courses in fire prevention, firefighting strategy and tactics, and hazardous materials.

Elgin Community College

Situated in Elgin, northwest of Chicago, this community college offers a Fire Science and Safety program. They provide courses on various topics related to firefighting and emergency services.

When considering a firefighting school or training program, it’s crucial to ensure that the institution and its programs are accredited by relevant bodies. Moreover, if you’re aiming to join a specific fire department, it’s a good idea to check with them about any preferred or recognized training programs.