7 Practical ways to Change Career from a Firefighter

A career change may be daunting, but it can be a positive experience with the appropriate information. There are numerous excellent job opportunities accessible to you as a firefighter. However, you might be asking what steps you need to take to change careers. This article explains how to make a career change from a firefighter to any career of your choosing.

Let’s get started!

Step 1. Research Alternate Careers for Firefighters

If you’ve decided that you want to change careers and no longer wish to work as a firefighter, there are other career opportunities for you to discover and explore.

When looking at other career options available to you, it’s important to not only ask yourself, “what can I do next?” and “what do I actually want to do.” If you’re changing from one career path to another, choosing one that you find fulfillment in and that solves the problems you had in your previous career is the smartest way to go.

In order to find out what fulfills you, you’re going to have to ask yourself some very important questions.

Try asking yourself;

  • What excites me?
  • What do I love doing?
  • What motivates you?
  • When are you at your happiest? And when are you most frustrated?

Now that you’ve asked yourself these personal questions, it’s time to ask some more career-based questions. Why do you no longer want to be a firefighter? Are you tired of the long hours, the physical labor, maybe you have health concerns, or you’re cracking under pressure?

No matter what your reason is, it’s important to ask yourself these questions. This will help you narrow down exactly what you’re looking for in a new career. Try asking yourself

  • Why do I no longer want to be a firefighter?
  • What type of work-life balance are you looking for?
  • Do I want a physically straining job?

Now that you’ve gotten your wants and needs out of the way, the next step is researching what careers are out there for your choosing. 

If you already have a specific career in mind, then the best thing to do is see how your skills and experience working as a firefighter match up to this new career you’re hoping for. To do this, you’re going to need to look for the requirements that a career requires.

 An efficient way to do this is by searching for that job, for example, “paramedic,” on job hosting websites like indeed, Linkedln, or monster and compiling a list of the common candidate requirements they require. 

On the other hand, if you don’t have a specific new career in mind and are searching for any options available to you, here is a list of common jobs that former fire fighters have successfully pivoted to:

  • Lifeguards: Lifeguards are in charge of supervising swimmers in bodies of water. They lookout for any hazards or signs of danger and are responsible for rescuing distressed swimmers and, on occasion performing CPR or first aid. This is a perfect job for former firefighters because firefighters are already well trained in emergency rescue and treatment.
  • Emergency Medical Technician (EMT): EMTs are professionals that work on the frontline of medicine. They provide medical attention and monitor patients en route to a hospital. Firefighters are normally trained and sometimes already work as paramedics, which makes being an EMT a good career to transition to.
  • Emergency Dispatcher: Emergency dispatchers are in charge of responding to emergency calls, gathering relevant information, and passing it on to first responders. They detail what these responders should expect on the scene. Firefighters are always in communication with dispatchers, which makes them familiar with their role, making it another great career choice for former firefighters.
  • Fire/Arson investigator: These investigators walk through fire scenes identify burn patterns and fire origins in order to determine the cause of a fire. They mainly investigate to decide if a fire was the result of an accident or deliberately started (arson). Firefighters are always the first pick and make great fire investigators because they already have practical experience in identifying and dealing with different types of fires and accelerants.
  • Home Inspection: Home inspectors are professionals responsible for surveying properties to make sure they meet all safety and structural requirements. Firefighters already have good knowledge of safety guidelines and even structural guidelines from dealing with structure fires in their careers.
  • First Aid Instructors: First aid instructors teach people skills needed to respond properly in an emergency situation and provide care. These skills may include performing CPR, dressing wounds, or dealing with broken bones, among others. Firefighters are already trained in performing first aid and properly reacting in emergency situations which makes them perfect fits for a career as a first aid instructor. 
  • Personal Trainers: Personal trainers create and guide their clients through exercises to help them achieve their health and fitness goals. They also create workout routines and monitor their client’s progress. A lot of firefighters already have good physical fitness as part of the requirements of their job, making a transition into personal training very attainable.

Step 2. Connect with other Professionals with Similar Firefighting Backgrounds

After deciding on a new career, the next helpful tip we have for you is to reach out to and speak with other professionals who have a similar background to yours.

This means reaching out to and speaking with former firefighters who were able to successfully transition into a new field. Why is this important?

A career change is not an easy decision to make, and having someone you can talk it out with, be open with, and who can possibly mentor you around any challenges you may face really makes all the difference.

Think about it; a former firefighter will have a more personal experience of the hardships you might face transitioning to a new field of interest. Additionally, someone who has successfully attempted what it is you’re trying to do will have much more knowledge on the best options to choose and the best way to go about things.

The only problem you may face following through with this tip is finding these professionals. Well, the best place to start is with any previous colleagues you may have had at one point that ended up changing careers.

You can also try reaching out to retired firefighters from your firehouse or even your district and talk to them. This is because a lot of firefighters actually retire into less physically straining roles in other professions. 

You can ask them how the transition has been for them and for any advice they may have for you.

In case this doesn’t apply to you, you can try talking to friends and family members who may have had similar experiences. Remember, you don’t have to limit yourself to only previous or retired firefighters.

Professionals from any field who previously changed careers will also have a wealth of information that can be very helpful to you. Whether it’s coping mechanisms on how to deal with the stress of a major decision or it’s just motivation, their advice will also be helpful.

However, if you’d prefer to talk to previous firefighters, then one efficient way is to find online communities to join and ask questions. Try searching for Facebook groups, discord chat rooms, or even subreddits filled with people willing to share their experiences and probably do’s and don’ts with you.

Step 3. Build Foundational Knowledge and Get Qualified

Foundational knowledge is the concept, theories, principles, methods, mode of reasoning, and framework for a particular subject or skill. 

Here’s an easier way to look at it, if you wanted to become a lifeguard, some foundational knowledge you’ll need would be actually knowing how to swim, as well as how to perform first aid.

How does this apply to you and a career change?

Well, chances are, after evaluating your personal preferences, needs,s and wants, you may decide on a career that you do not have all the required skills or technical requirements to enter into. This is where building your foundational knowledge and getting qualified comes in.

Let’s look at an example in detail. Picture a firefighter trying to transition into a physical trainer role. Although the role would need a physically fit person, it will most likely require some certifications or qualifications.

Firefighters can build on their foundational knowledge by researching the requirements for these roles (mentioned in tip 1) and setting out to achieve them. 

In this case, the firefighter will need to earn physical training qualifications that show that they have achieved the level of competency required for creating and delivering safe and effective exercise programs for the health and fitness of their clients.

Know that depending on the career you hope to transition into, gaining qualifications may not be enough. Some career changes may require additional years of learning to get a degree.

Getting additional degrees or qualifications may seem like an energy-consuming task. But, it may really be required to bridge your knowledge and experience gap for some career changes. Degrees, qualifications, certifications are tested and proven ways to gain the experience you will need in almost any industry. Studying these will allow you to know the history and procedures for the industry you hope to pivot into and will definitely help in bringing you up to date for your new career.

Step 4. Identify and Package your Transferrable Skills

Before moving forward with your career change, the next helpful tip we have for you is to stop and take a moment to look back on the skills you have that allowed you to excel as a firefighter or even the skills you picked up while working as one.

Ask yourself what skills come easily and naturally to you. For example, working as a firefighter probably means you’re a good problem solver, time conscious, and great at working under pressure. 

These talents and skills of yours can easily act as selling points for other careers that may require you to work on more than one job or project at a time.

Let’s look at easily transferrable skills that firefighters can use in other professions.

  • Communication skills: Firefighters use strong communication skills when passing along the information to one another during emergency situations. Whether it’s written or verbal, communication is a skill that’s needed in every field. Being able to correspond with clients, superiors, and colleagues is important. 
  • Time management: Firefighters use time management skills and organization skills when assigning duties and handling multiple responsibilities at once. These skills used inefficiently in handling emergencies are easily transferrable to all careers.
  • Problem Solving Skills: Firefighters use their problem-solving skills to quickly analyze different situations, their potential risks and quickly form plans of action. These problem-solving skills will be greatly appreciated in a number of other professions.
  • Attention to detail: Part of being a firefighter has superior attention to detail as well as efficiency. A lot of employers look for applicants that will hold their job to high standards and leave no room for error.
  • Excellent awareness, physical fitness, adaptability, and interpersonal skills are also transferrable skills that can be utilized in a lot of other professions.

Highlighting any of the transferrable skills you have in a cover letter or resume when applying for a job will help emphasize your suitability for the job and help to hire managers to see you as a strong candidate.

Step 5. Evaluate and Reframe Your Work Experience

Another helpful tip for making a career change from firefighting is evaluating and reframing your work experience. This is important because you will definitely have learned a lot from your experience working as a firefighter.

You need to evaluate your work experience by asking yourself how your performance at work aligns with your own personal and career goals.

Some questions to ask are what particular technical and interpersonal skills have you developed through your job? Will these skills benefit you in the new position you’re looking for?

A good way to carry out your evaluation is by identifying all your work-related strengths and weaknesses. Your strengths could be that you can easily adapt to any number of situations and are very good at communicating, while your weaknesses depend on you and what you’re comfortable sharing.

Why should you evaluate your work experience?

Evaluating your work experience helps to put in perspective what you learned on the job and how these may fit into your new career. But more importantly, it makes it easier to reframe your experience to present yourself as the perfect candidate for a job.

Like I said in tip 1, chances are you will not have all the qualifications and requirements listed on job postings. But even if you’re only a “partial” match for the listing, that doesn’t mean you should give up.

Reframing your work experience even when you do not have some of the desired requirements can help justify and amplify your skills to make you look like a good fit for the position.

For example, if an employer is looking for a lifeguard, you may never have worked as one, but as a firefighter, you may have had experience identifying people in dangerous situations and responding to them. You can point out how your experience handling these situations is similar to working as a lifeguard and show how valuable this experience will be for the role.

Justifying the lack of skill or qualification may not be easy, but reframing your work experience to make up for the skill you do not directly have can easily sway an employer in your favor.

Step 6. Acquire New Work Experience.

Just like gaining new qualifications or certifications can help you in pivoting to a new career, gaining actual work experience is also very important.

Once you know what career path you want, working in that field is a good way to get your feet in the door. This doesn’t mean making an immediate career change in that field; think of it more as interning or just getting practical experience in your new field.

Some ways to acquire new work experience include;

  • Volunteering with an organization: One way to get more work experience is by volunteering for professionals in the new field you hope to work in. You can ask for permission to shadow them and help with any minor tasks they may have. Not only will this help you build your resume, but it will help you develop your skills while building new networks.
  • Working on other company projects: Another way to gain more work experience is by volunteering to work and help out on related projects going on at your current company.

For example, as a firefighter, you can volunteer to work with the emergency dispatch team, EMTs, or the fire investigation team, depending on the career you hope to transition to. You can volunteer to help with any minor tasks they may have.

  • Work on side projects: In the evenings after work or on days off, you can spend your time working on side projects that can help you pad up your work portfolio. For example, If you’re hoping for a handyman role, you can start working on projects that showcase your skills and ability with tools. 

Acquiring new work experience will not only look good on your resume, but it will also give you an inner look into the industry you may be working in in the future. This will either strengthen your determination to work in the industry or will help you relies on that it may not be the right fit for you.

Step 7. Update Your Professional Brand Assets.

Changing your line of work will most likely require you to change and fine-tune the way you present yourself professionally. Reviewing your CV, personal websites, and Linkedln profile can go a long way in making your career change experience smoother.

Your professional assets include

  • Your CV: Highlighting your skills and experience on your resume in a way that fits the new career options you’re looking into is important. Using a functional CV that lists your relevant skills will shift the focus to what you can offer the company and what they stand to benefit from having you fill that position.

Your CV is an effective way to show employers how you will be a great asset for the position you’re applying for.

  • Your LinkedIn Profile: Your LinkedIn profile is one of the first places that a hiring manager will check; this means it’s important to match the information on your CV to that on your LinkedIn profile. As someone moving into a new career, it’s also important to let recruiters know that you’re open to hiring and looking for new opportunities.

Optimize the headline section of your profile by listing major skills that will be required in your new profession. Also, optimize the summary section of your profile by highlighting your work experience, certifications, technical skills, and expertise.

  • Your Personal Websites: Your personal websites include all your social media accounts. A good tip is to make sure all your social media accounts show you in a professional light; if possible, let your social media activity reflect your interests and activities you may have carried out in relation to your new field of work. Make posts on topics that you’re passionate about and connect with professionals working in your field of interest.

Bonus Tip: Take Action.

You now have a well-thought-out and drawn-out plan. What’s left to do? It’s time to get up and start using it.

Prioritize yourself and your future by investing your time and energy into making this career change work for you.

Don’t treat your career change as an afterthought once you’ve decided on it, be committed and dedicated to turning it into a reality. Motivate yourself, and surround yourself with people who will also push you to achieve your dreams.

Even though it may be a big and scary decision to make for most people, if you’re intentional about what it is you want, and you’ve drafted out your action plan on how to achieve what you want, the only thing left to do is believe in yourself and finally put your plan into motion.

Do not hesitate, do not procrastinate. The best time you have to make this career change is now. No other time will be as good as now. Commit to putting into the work, and your efforts will definitely yield results for you.

Just think about it. What do you have to lose? In the best-case scenario, you make a successful pivot into a new career that you love and is perfect for you.

In conclusion

Changing careers can be a difficult thing to do, but with the right tools and attitude, you can make it happen! The eight tips in this article are tested and proven when making the action plan that’ll you’ll need to make this career change a successful one for you.

Do some research into what careers best fit your experience, skills, personal needs, and wants. Network with professionals who have a similar background to you, build on your foundational knowledge by acquiring more work experience, skills, and qualifications you’ll need for your new role.

Update your professional brand assets to align with the new career you’ve decided to pursue and market yourself as a perfect candidate for roles in your new career path.

 Finally, take action and treat your career change as a job in itself. Make sure to invest your time, energy, and any other resources you require into turning this dream of yours into a whole reality.

There are many opportunities out there open to people with backgrounds in firefighting. The key is finding these opportunities that are perfect for you and equipping yourself with all the experience, skills, and qualifications that are sure to make you a great fit for the role.

Patrick is passionate about supporting other professionals to find success in their chosen career paths. So far, he has successfully navigated four career transitions and is currently a Product Manager Consultant helping businesses build products their customers love.