How to Research a Fire Department

firefighters outside of the station

“I just want to be a firefighter. I don’t care where it is or what department it’s for. I just want a fire job.”


At some point most of us have had this thought. I remember specifically saying something similar to this when I was trying to get hired. Having very little exposure to the fire service growing up, I had almost no knowledge of “the job” and how it differed from department to department. Of course, at its core, being a firefighter is essentially the same. But respectfully, being a firefighter for FDNY is much different than working at a small rural department with only one station. That is why researching the fire departments you plan to try and get hired with is such an important step of the hiring process.


So how do you research a  fire department? Below are a few ways you can research a fire department and get the information you need to make an informed decision. 


Online Information

 Everyone these days has a phone, tablet, laptop, watch, or desktop they can use to access the internet. Use any one of these devices to look up information about your prospective fire department. On their website, look for a copy of their annual report. This will give you stats about how many calls they run, how many firefighters work there, and even break downs of their calls by type of response. This will give you an idea of how busy the department is, and what types of calls they run. 


Firefighter Interview Prep Research Worksheet 

In our online course we have an entire section devoted to this topic. Throughout that section of the video course we explain exactly how to research a fire department. We even give you a worksheet we made that lists out every question to ask during a station visit or ride along. These questions will give you information like: what kinds of special teams does the department have, what are their staffing levels, response type based on incidents, and any special hazards in the response area.


Ask Someone Who Knows

Talk to someone who works there. If you’re lucky enough to already know someone who works at the department you want to get hired with, talk to them. Find out what it’s like to work there. Ask about the things you can’t find out just from looking at their website. Talk to them about the culture within the department. Are they strict and paramilitaristic, or is it more of a laid back department? Questions like this will ultimately help you find the department that is the best fit for your 20-30 year career.


Ride Alongs and Station Visits

The best way to get an insight into a particular fire department is to do a ride along or station visit. Most departments will allow members of the public, especially hiring candidates, to sign up for either a station visit or ride along. If you have the choice, I would recommend the ride along. Station visits are still good, but they typically only allow you to hang out at the station and talk to the firefighters for a short amount of time. Whereas, the ride along will last all day, and as the name implies, you will ride along on the fire engine/rescue to all of the calls. Doing so will give you great insight into how the department operates on a daily basis.


The Takeaway

Finding the right department to settle down with is an important decision. If done right, this is a decision that will keep you with the same department for the next 20-30 years. Being a firefighter is a great job, but it is only as enjoyable if you fit in with the culture and the people you are surrounded with. Take the time to research your fire department and you will thank yourself in the long run.