The first step for someone who wants to become a fire chief is to get hired as a firefighter. Most fire services choose a fire chief from local candidates who are familiar with the policies and procedures of their organization. Along with on-the-job experience, a prospective fire chief will need to obtain a post-secondary degree to prepare him or her for the responsibility of taking over the practical and administrative duties associated with running the department.
Getting hired as a firefighter is a lengthy process in itself. Not only does a candidate have to be able to pass the rigorous physical tests involved in applying for a position, but he or she must also be able to remain calm in very stressful situations and work well as part of a team. Candidates for a firefighter position must also be of good character and be able to pass a complete physical examination.
Once the individual who wants to become a fire chief has been accepted to fire school, he or she is subjected to a vigorous training program. Practical exercises are combined with classroom study during this phase. Participants are being constantly evaluated,and not everyone who starts the program continues through to the end. Fire school graduates start working for the fire department and are on probation for the first phase of their employment.
Doing well on the job is one prerequisite for someone who has set a goal to become a fire chief. With time, the firefighters gain the experience needed to deal with a number of different kinds of fire and rescue situations. The ideal candidate for this position is someone who has a number of years of active duty to draw on, since he or she will need to direct the actions of other fire personnel when a fire or other emergency occurs. The fire chief must be someone who can act as a leader while effectively representing the department at public events as well.
Since the fire chief also needs to deal with making decisions about budgets, equipment and personnel, a person who would like to become a fire chief should pursue studies at the university level to prepare for this part of the job. Completing a degree program majoring in fire science or fire service technology would be helpful. A public administration degree can also be helpful to someone who wants to become a fire chief.