How Veterans Can Continue to Serve in the Firefighting Professions

A California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection firefighter hoses down hot spots from the Anzar Fire near Aromas, Calif.
A California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection firefighter hoses down hot spots from the Anzar Fire near Aromas, Calif., Thursday, July 21, 2022. (Nic Coury/AP Photo)

If you are a service member and considering following a civilian career of service, many veterans are finding their way to the fire services. There are many options for a career in firefighting at city and county levels, state fire academies and federal firefighting in the Department of Defense and U.S. Fire Administration, just to name a few.

There are also many organizations on the federal side of firefighter employment: the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service. Local and state firefighting departments also have wildland fire service departments. Many veterans find a home in fire services because of the camaraderie and sense of a shared mission they provide, similar to what service members had while serving in the military.

Related: Search for firefighter jobs.

Service in the military makes regular fitness tests less stressful than what an average firefighter candidate might go through. However, you do not want to assume that you can ace these job-related physical skills because you can ace your military physical fitness test, or PFT. It helps, but understanding the specific requirements is a must. Simply adding in stair stepper training, buddy carries, crawls and sledgehammer work will help tremendously if added to the foundation of a fit military member.

If you're a veteran, here are some links to programs that help prior service members get hired with the fire service:

  • Veterans to Wildland: Hiring opportunities for veterans in federal firefighting programs.
  • Leadership Under Fire: Training for firefighters and programs to help veterans join the fire service.
  • Paddy Brown Program: This program is run by veterans as well.

Here are a few of the most common fitness standards and firefighting tests you must take prior to employment. The most common firefighter test is the Candidate Physical Abilities Test, or CPAT. There are a few variations between some department's CPAT, but all are focused on testing actual job-related skills.


  1. Stair climb: stair stepper three minutes @ 60 steps/minute
  2. Hose drag: 100 feet
  3. Equipment carry: farmer's walk 75 feet carrying equipment
  4. Ladder raise and extension
  5. Forcible entry: sledgehammer to open door or wall
  6. Search: crawl with limited visibility
  7. Rescue (165-pound dummy drag 70 feet)
  8. Ceiling breach and pull

Wildland Firefighter Pack Test

This is basically a walk with varying levels of difficulty. There are three levels of duty you must pass in order to continue. The Arduous Duty Pack Test is the hardest and consists of a ruck with 45 pounds of gear for three miles. You have 45 minutes to negotiate that distance without running. If you practice a power walk ruck with 45 pounds, you can easily cross three miles in 35-40 minutes. The Moderate Level Pack Test is a two-mile ruck with 25 pounds of gear in under 30 minutes. The Light Pack Test is a walk of a mile with no gear in under 16 minutes. No running permitted -- just fast walking.

Wildland Fitness Assessment Battery

This is a comprehensive testing program that involves standard fitness test events such as push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, plank pose, running and weightlifting tests.

Finally, for those who want a bigger challenge in the fire service, there are the Smoke Jumpers. If you love being airborne qualified, you might really like this firefighting mission.

Final Recommendation

Get used to being hot and working in heat. Also, with the 60-plus pounds of gear that you wear and carry and the intense heat of fire, you need to stay hydrated. Work on a fire scene is never easy, and quite honestly, it takes brave people to enter a burning building to save another.

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