Hawaii,HI: How to Become a Firefighter

According to the latest figures published by the US Fire Administration for 2021, Hawaii reported 0.3 deaths and 0.8 injuries per 1,000 fires. The national average was 2.3 deaths and 7.2 injuries per 1,000 fires.

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Owing to the natural diversity of the area – beaches, exotic landscapes, tourists spots, and sprawling metro areas, Hawaii is vulnerable to different calamities. It has suffered due to many hurricanes, storms, and wildfires, which has increased the importance of firefighters in the area. According to the 2021 statistics provided by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are 1,790 firefighters employed in Hawaii. O*NET OnLine has projected a 3% employment growth for firefighters in Hawaii between 2020 – 2030.

How Many Years of College to Be a Firefighter

Despite being a challenging job, it is easy to enter the field of firefighting. The minimum education requirement to become a firefighter is high school diploma. However, with time more and more states have started to give preference to applicants who have at least an associate degree in fire science or a related field. This benefits not just the department as they get a candidate who is more knowledgeable and skilled, but also provides growth opportunity to the firefighter.

Due to its diverse landscape, firefighters in Hawaii have multiple responsibilities and require a varied skillset.

  • With many islands and tourists’ locations, there is a need for water rescue operations. Firefighters go through a specialized Water Rescue Technician Course which includes:
  • Physiology and Mechanisms of Drowning
  • Principles of Water Rescue and Survival
  • Cold Water/Ice Rescue and Survival
  • Basic Contact and Swimming Rescues
  • Management of Aquatic Spinal Injuries
  • Survival Maneuvers and Defense
  • Hawaii also has its share of volcanoes fires. This means that firefighters in the area need to have special skills to deal with situations such as:
  • Make evacuation plans and come up with an alternate route.
  • Firefighters are trained in fire suppression and this includes implementing Direct and Indirect Attack method. This involves using special tools as well as helicopters for sprinkling water to contain fire.

Firefighting Academies in Hawaii

There are different community colleges and firefighting academies in Hawaii that provide specialized training. The Hawaii Fire Department requires all candidates to complete 16-week training course. This is followed by firefighting certification as well as EMT certification.

All firefighters in Hawaii have to undergo one year probation, during which they have to clear several tests and obtain certifications. Water training certification is also among the requirements of Hawaii Fire Department.

Job Duties of a Firefighter in Hawaii

The job duties of a firefighter in Hawaii would be largely similar to those in other states, although the specific responsibilities may vary depending on the local context, department policy, and environmental conditions. Here are some general job duties a firefighter in Hawaii might be responsible for:

General Duties

  • Fire Suppression: Respond to fire alarms and extinguish fire hazards.
  • Rescue Operations: Perform rescue operations, including water rescue, hazardous materials (HazMat) situations, and natural disasters.
  • Medical Services: Provide basic first aid and medical assistance until qualified medical personnel arrive.
  • Equipment Maintenance: Maintain fire and rescue equipment and apparatus, ensuring they are ready for use at all times.
  • Training: Engage in regular drills and ongoing professional training, including training related to the specifics of the Hawaiian environment, such as volcanoes or ocean rescues.
  • Inspections: Carry out regular inspections of buildings for fire hazards and ensuring fire codes are adhered to.
  • Community Engagement: Educate the public about fire safety and engage in community outreach programs.
  • Incident Reporting: Document incidents, actions, and findings in detail for future reference and to adhere to the reporting procedures of the respective department.
  • Collaboration: Work collaboratively with other emergency services, like police and emergency medical services.

Specific to Hawaii

  • Volcano-Related Emergencies: May be tasked with managing or responding to emergencies related to volcanic activities, including rescues, evacuations, and fire control.
  • Ocean Rescue: May need specialized training in ocean rescue techniques given the proximity to coastlines and popularity of water sports.
  • Hurricane Response: Participate in emergency response actions related to hurricanes or tropical storms, which are not uncommon in the region.
  • Unique Flora and Fauna: May require knowledge about local plant life and animals that could pose additional risks or challenges during firefighting and rescue operations.
  • Tourist Safety: Given that Hawaii is a popular tourist destination, firefighters may also be tasked with public safety education targeting visitors unfamiliar with local risks like rip currents or volcanic terrains.
  • Cultural Sensitivity: Given the cultural importance of certain locations and practices in Hawaii, firefighters may need to be aware of these in order to respect local traditions and sensitivities when performing their duties.
  • Isolated Locations: Due to the unique geography of the islands, firefighters may also have to be trained in reaching and operating in relatively isolated or hard-to-reach locations.
  • Inter-Island Coordination: Given that Hawaii is an archipelago, there may be instances where firefighters from different islands have to coordinate for larger emergencies.

It’s important to note that specific responsibilities can differ between rural and urban departments, and specialized units within a department may focus on specific types of emergency response, such as HazMat, airport firefighting, or search and rescue.

Skills to Work as a Firefighter in Hawaii

Working as a firefighter in Hawaii would require a diverse set of skills, some of which are general to firefighting roles everywhere, and others that may be more specific to the unique geographical and cultural context of Hawaii. Below are some essential skills:

General Firefighting Skills

  • Physical Fitness: Firefighters must be physically fit to handle the demanding tasks like lifting heavy equipment, carrying victims, and wearing heavy gear for extended periods.
  • Emergency Medical Skills: Basic medical knowledge and the ability to administer first aid or CPR are essential.
  • Teamwork: Firefighters often work in teams and must be able to collaborate effectively with colleagues.
  • Communication: Clear verbal and written communication skills are important for understanding orders, explaining situations to the public or other authorities, and documenting incidents.
  • Technical Proficiency: Operating firefighting equipment like hoses, ladders, and pumps require technical aptitude.
  • Problem-Solving: Firefighters often face unexpected situations and must quickly analyze them to find the best course of action.
  • Stress Management: The ability to stay calm under pressure is crucial, as firefighters regularly deal with high-stress situations.
  • Public Relations: Firefighters often interact with the public, so interpersonal skills are essential.
  • Mechanical Aptitude: Basic understanding of mechanical systems is helpful for maintaining and repairing equipment.
  • Knowledge of Codes and Regulations: Familiarity with fire codes, building structures, and safety regulations is important for inspections and emergency response.

Skills Specific to Hawaii

  • Water Rescue Skills: Given Hawaii’s coastal geography, skills in water rescue, and possibly scuba diving, are valuable.
  • Volcanic Incident Response: Understanding the unique challenges posed by volcanic activities and being trained to respond to them.
  • Cultural Sensitivity: Awareness of the local culture and traditions can be important in community relations and specific rescue operations.
  • Navigational Skills: Ability to navigate through diverse terrains, from forests to mountains, that are specific to the Hawaiian islands.
  • Hurricane Response Training: Skills in managing and responding to tropical storms and hurricanes are essential.
  • Local Flora and Fauna Knowledge: An understanding of local plant life and wildlife could be beneficial for forest fires and rescue operations in natural settings.
  • Marine Wildlife Knowledge: Given the proximity to the ocean, understanding the marine environment could be useful in ocean rescues.
  • Helicopter/Air Rescue: Training in air rescue may be beneficial given the varied terrains and the possibility of inter-island rescues.
  • Inter-Island Coordination: Ability to coordinate with teams from different islands or remote areas can be crucial for effective emergency response.
  • Tourist Education: Ability to educate a transient population, such as tourists, about local risks and safety procedures.
  • Multi-lingual Skills: Given the diverse population and large number of tourists, speaking languages other than English can be an asset.

Training programs, both in-house and external, are usually available to help firefighters develop these skills. However, having a foundational understanding and aptitude for these can be a significant advantage.

Requirements to Become a Firefighter in Hawaii

With its 12 fire departments always alert to combat and prevent fires, the citizens can sleep in peace. If you want to join this skilled team of professionals, then you should consider submitting your application. The applicant has to meet the following criteria in order to be eligible to apply:

  • The person has to meet the residency requirements and has to be a US citizen
  • The person should be at least 18 at the time of his/her application
  • The person should have a good moral character and a clean legal track record
  • The person’s mental and physical health condition must be excellent
  • Should possess a valid driver’s license

Steps to Become a Firefighter in Hawaii

Becoming a firefighter in Hawaii involves a series of steps that include meeting educational and physical requirements, passing exams, and undergoing specialized training. The exact process can vary between counties and cities, but the general steps are as follows:

  1. Initial Requirements
  • Age and Citizenship: You must be at least 18 years old and be a U.S. citizen or have a valid work permit.
  • High School Diploma or GED: A high school diploma or its equivalent is usually required.
  • Valid Driver’s License: A valid state driver’s license is generally required, and some departments may require a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL).
  • Background Check: Expect to undergo a thorough background check, including criminal history and possibly a credit check.
  • Physical Fitness and Medical Examination
  • Physical Fitness Test: Applicants must pass a physical agility test which could include tasks like lifting weights, climbing ladders, and endurance runs.
  • Medical Examination: A comprehensive medical exam, including drug screening and possibly psychological testing, is usually required.
  • Exams
  • Written Exam: This tests basic skills such as reading comprehension, math, and mechanical reasoning.
  • Oral Interview: An interview with a panel to assess your suitability for the role, including your ability to think on your feet and how well you work in a team.
  • Skills Assessment: Some departments may have practical tests or assessments to evaluate your firefighting and emergency medical skills.
  1. Training
  • Fire Academy: If you pass all tests and interviews, you will usually go through a Fire Academy training program. This program will teach you the basics of firefighting, rescue operations, and emergency medical services.
  • Specialized Training: Given Hawaii’s unique landscape and hazards, additional training may be offered or required, such as water rescue, helicopter rescue, or volcanic incident response.
  1. Certification
  • State and/or National Certification: After successful completion of training, you will need to be certified, usually involving more exams. Some departments may also require Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) certification.
  • Probation: New hires generally go through a probationary period during which their performance is closely monitored.
  1. Continuing Education and Career Progression
  • Ongoing Training: Continuous education and training are important for career development and staying current with new technologies and methods.
  • Career Advancement: With experience and additional training and certifications, firefighters can move up the ranks to positions like Fire Lieutenant, Fire Captain, and beyond.
  1. Optional Steps
  • Volunteer Experience: Some people gain experience by starting as volunteer firefighters.
  • Higher Education: Although ot generally required, some firefighters opt for higher education in fields like fire science, public administration, or emergency medical services to advance their careers.
  • Specializations: Some firefighters train in specializations like hazardous material handling, paramedicine, or search and rescue.

Please note that specific requirements and steps may vary depending on the local jurisdiction, so it is crucial to consult with the specific fire department where you wish to apply.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Firefighter in Hawaii?

The applicant has to pass through many stages before being hired as a firefighter. First, the candidate has to appear for a written aptitude exam that tests the individual’s reasoning skills and problem solving abilities. If the individual passes this test, he is called for a physical agility exam, which requires the candidate to perform various exercises and tasks.
If the person’s performance on the physical test is satisfactory, he/she is called for a panel interview that assesses the candidate’s potential. He/she also has to go through background screening, psychological exam, medical test, and a polygraph test. After passing through all these stages, the person is finally hired for the position.

How Much Does a Firefighter Make in Hawaii?

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2022 the annual mean wage of firefighters in Hawaii was $72,880. Every island in Hawaii requires its own firefighting crew which is why the projected growth in the region is 3% between 2020-2030 as per O*Net OnLine.

Firefighters Careers in Hawaii

A career as a firefighter in Hawaii offers a range of opportunities and challenges unique to the state’s diverse geographical and cultural landscape. From fighting forest fires in rural areas to conducting water rescues in the ocean, firefighters in Hawaii need to be prepared for a wide array of situations. Here are some aspects to consider regarding a firefighting career in Hawaii:

Types of Fire Departments

  • City Fire Departments: These are the fire departments for larger cities like Honolulu and Hilo, which offer a full range of services from fire suppression to emergency medical services.
  • County Fire Departments: These departments cover larger areas and multiple towns, and may also include special units like water rescue and wilderness firefighting.
  • Federal Fire Departments: Given the military presence in Hawaii, there are federal firefighting positions related to military installations.
  • Airport Fire Services: Airports like Honolulu International Airport have their own specialized firefighting units trained in dealing with aircraft fires.
  • Private and Industrial Fire Services: Some industrial facilities have their own fire brigades.

Career Paths

  • Firefighter: The entry-level position, involving general firefighting and rescue duties.
  • Engineer/Driver: Responsible for driving the fire truck and managing the equipment.
  • Lieutenant: A supervisory role, overseeing a team of firefighters.
  • Captain: More advanced supervisory role, often responsible for multiple units or an entire station.
  • Battalion Chief: Manages multiple stations or a specific department within the firefighting service, such as training or logistics.
  • Assistant Chief: Helps the Chief in overall department management.
  • Chief: The highest-ranking officer in a fire department.


  • Paramedic/Firefighter: Specializing in medical emergency responses.
  • HazMat Technician: Specializes in handling hazardous materials incidents.
  • Water Rescue Specialist: Focuses on water-based rescue operations, which is particularly relevant in Hawaii.
  • Search and Rescue: Specializing in locating and helping people in extreme situations.
  • Wildland Firefighter: Specializes in fighting forest and brush fires, which can be common in certain parts of Hawaii.
  • Fire Inspector/Investigator: Focuses on identifying fire hazards in buildings and investigates the causes of fires.

Certifications and Continuing Education

Continuous education and re-certification are part of the job. Many firefighters choose to pursue additional certifications like EMT or paramedic licenses, advanced rescue techniques, or even degrees in fire science or public administration.

Benefits and Challenges


  • Job security and pension plans are generally good in firefighting roles.
  • Opportunity for community engagement and public service.
  • Diverse work experiences, especially given Hawaii’s unique landscape.


  • Physical and emotional demands are high.
  • Risk of injury or exposure to hazardous situations.
  • Work schedules can be demanding, including holidays and weekends.

Cultural Considerations

Being culturally sensitive and aware of local customs and traditions is important, especially when engaging with local communities or dealing with sacred sites during rescue operations.

Networking and Professional Organizations

Joining local or national firefighting organizations can provide networking opportunities and access to additional training and career development programs.

It’s essential to research the specific requirements and opportunities in the department or area where you wish to serve, as requirements and career paths can vary.

Firefighter Colleges in Hawaii

Hawaii does not have a wide range of colleges specifically dedicated to firefighting, but there are educational programs and courses available that can help you prepare for a career in firefighting. Here are some options to consider:

Honolulu Community College

Honolulu Community College offers a Fire and Environmental Emergency Response program. This program provides a strong foundation in fire science and emergency management. Graduates often pursue careers as firefighters, emergency service coordinators, and hazardous materials technicians.

University of Hawaii

While not offering a dedicated firefighting program, the University of Hawaii has campuses that offer degrees in related fields such as Emergency Management, Public Administration, and Health Sciences. These programs can provide a broader understanding of emergency services and administration that could be beneficial for career progression in firefighting.

Community Colleges and Online Courses

Some community colleges in Hawaii may offer individual courses in Emergency Medical Services (EMS), fire safety, and other related subjects. These courses can be useful for gaining specific skills that are important for firefighting.

EMT Training Programs

Many firefighters are also trained as Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs). There are EMT training programs available in Hawaii that can provide this essential medical training. Some of these programs might be available through community colleges, technical schools, or healthcare facilities.

Military Training

Given the significant military presence in Hawaii, military firefighting training can also be an avenue into a civilian firefighting career. Those trained in firefighting roles within the military often have an easier time transitioning into similar roles in civilian life.

Professional Training and Certifications

Once you are hired by a fire department, you will typically undergo a rigorous training program at a fire academy, which could be run by the department itself or another organization. This training will be specific to the equipment and protocols used by the department, and you’ll likely earn various certifications upon completion.

It’s important to check with local educational institutions and fire departments for the most current information on available courses, programs, and requirements, as these can change over time.

Fire Departments in Hawaii

Hawaii is composed of several counties, each with its own fire department responsible for providing fire protection and emergency medical services. Here’s an overview of some of the primary fire departments in Hawaii:

Honolulu Fire Department

Location: City and County of Honolulu, Oahu

Responsibilities: Covers the most populated Hawaiian island, Oahu, and is the largest fire department in Hawaii. Responsibilities include firefighting, EMS, hazardous materials incidents, water and mountain rescues, etc.

Hawaii Fire Department

Location: County of Hawaii, Big Island

Responsibilities: Covers Hawaii’s Big Island and is responsible for fire suppression, emergency medical services, and specific regional needs such as volcanic eruption responses.

Maui Fire Department

Location: County of Maui, islands of Maui, Molokai, Lanai

Responsibilities: Provides services including fire suppression, emergency medical care, and ocean, mountain, and technical rescues across multiple islands.

Kauai Fire Department

Location: County of Kauai, island of Kauai

Responsibilities: Provides fire suppression and emergency medical services on the island of Kauai. Also, they often engage in water rescues, given the island’s numerous beaches.

Federal Fire Department Hawaii

Location: Various U.S. Military Installations across Hawaii

Responsibilities: Provides fire prevention and emergency services to U.S. government installations and facilities, including Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, Hickam Air Force Base, and others.

Airport Fire Services

  • Various airports, such as Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu, have specialized firefighting units trained to deal with aircraft fires and other airport-specific incidents.

Private and Industrial Fire Brigades

  • Some industrial facilities and private organizations may also have their own internal fire departments.

Volunteer Fire Departments

  • Some rural or less populated areas might rely on volunteer fire departments, especially in regions where a full-time, professional fire department may not be feasible.

Each department has its own application process, requirements, and training programs for new recruits. It’s important to consult with the specific department you are interested in for the most current information.

These departments may also offer specialized units for dealing with Hawaii’s unique challenges, such as water rescue teams, volcano response units, and wildland firefighting teams. If you’re interested in a career in firefighting in Hawaii, you’ll need to consider which department aligns with your career goals, skill sets, and interests.

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