Becoming a fire chief is a daunting challenge, as it requires going beyond the expectations, creating and maintaining strong relationships, active participation, and continuous education. It is a long-term balancing act of real world experience, training, and educational courses that must be taken seriously. Fire chiefs are responsible for supervising their fire department, working with public services, and other government agencies, leading towards positive goals, and wholly representing their team. If you’re hoping to attain this position and want to make that dream a reality, it starts with becoming a firefighter.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a firefighter can be promoted through the ranks of engineer, lieutenant, captain, battalion chief, assistant chief, to deputy chief, which is the last position before chief. This is the usual path for firefighters because they need to learn about every aspect of the job to become chief. Firefighters who want to make it to the top need to genuinely practice and understand every role within the department. Due to the dangerous work they are involved in, firefighters are a close-knit group with strong relationships.

For those who are keen on becoming a fire chief, there are a few tips and requirements that can help them accomplish their goals.

Start as a Firefighter and Gain Experience

Applicants must be eighteen years old, and most fire departments require a high school diploma to become a firefighter. Training in emergency medical services and working as a volunteer firefighter can increase the chances of being hired as well. Firefighters are almost always required to earn an emergency medical technician (EMT) certification, and will have to train at a fire academy.

Certifications and Education

To advance through the ranks, firefighters will require extra training, education, and certifications. A bachelor’s degree is required to be promoted past the position of a battalion chief. Bachelor’s degrees in fire science, public administration, occupational safety, or a similar area can be the best options for someone dedicated to upward movement.

Firefighters will need an EMT certification, of which there are multiple levels. A basic certification is almost always required by fire departments, and a paramedic certification can help with career advancement. Throughout the U.S., there are accredited schools such as the National Fire Academy that offer programs and courses for continued education. To become a fire chief, firefighters may want to consider their executive fire officer certification, which helps firefighters understand the responsibilities of administration.

Relationships, Communication, and Participation

As it was mentioned earlier, firefighters work in high-stress, dangerous situations. The severity of their work requires trust and clear communication among the fire crew, and these attributes can’t be developed through coursework and education alone. Education helps firefighters maintain practices and learn new techniques, but real-life experience helps firefighters create strong bonds with others on their team.

Taking initiative by partaking in events, activities, volunteering, drills, and training is another useful tip for becoming a fire chief. Active growth within the department and community is a major step towards being acknowledged as a potential candidate. Actions speak louder than words, and this is especially prevalent in firefighting. Colleagues and upper management will take notice of participation and the benefits they offer towards experience and education.

If you want to be a fire chief, you want to be a leader. Vetting for such a prominent role begins when a firefighter joins the department, and showing leadership skills can lead to promotions.

Maintain Physical Strength

Although most of the requirements and tips involve mental preparation, education, and relationships, the physicality of the job is important as well. To ensure that they’re able to fulfill their duties on the job, firefighters have to be in peak physical condition.

Working with fires, disasters, and rescue can be taxing on the body; especially with the equipment. Firefighting gear can weigh between 45-65 pounds depending on the equipment needed for the situation.

Stay the Course

Becoming a fire chief isn’t easy and can take around 25 years to achieve. Firefighters who are dedicated to their plan and go above and beyond the requirements can accomplish their career goals. Earning a bachelor’s degree, becoming a firefighter, and being active in the department and community are a good start to achieving that title. Fire chiefs have to be prepared for that’s both mentally and physically taxing. They represent their department, the community, and manage the first line of defense against accidents and disasters.

Learn More

Learn to identify and analyze potential workplace hazards, infractions and risks through a bachelor of science in occupational safety online. At Eastern Kentucky University, you will gain a graduate-level education by industry-experienced educators and fire and safety professionals who are committed to teaching and preparing you for continued success.

Recommended Readings:

The Demand for Safety Professionals in the U.S

Occupational Health and Safety Specialists: A Day in the Life.

What is an Online Occupational Safety Degree?


Grube, B. (2017, April 26). [Telephone interview]. Firefighter with Deltona Fire Department; 2+ years experience.