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The ultimate guide to firefighting training in 2024

A firefighter stands in front of a burning building.

Everything you need to know about what it takes to become a firefighter

Firefighting is one of the most dreamt-about jobs in America by both children and adults. Kids fantasize about becoming firefighters because of the heroism of firefighters. Job sites like LinkedIn and Indeed routinely publish detailed information about how to become one, showing that this romanticism continues for many well into adulthood.

The job of firefighting, though, is physically and emotionally demanding – and dangerous. According to the National Fire Protection Association, more than 60,000 firefighters were injured in the line of duty in 2021, with injuries like overexertion, falls and other accidents topping the list of injuries sustained.

The key to staying safe is extensive training. Firefighting training helps reduce damage caused by fires, increases fire department efficiency, reduces insurance claims and exposes firefighters to new tools and techniques.

For everyone who has ever dreamt about becoming a firefighter, here are the most common training techniques and tools for this crucial job.

Firefighting training equipment

Firefighting requires a very special set of skills. From putting out fires to rescuing crash survivors, the work of a firefighter is complicated and dangerous. Firefighting education and training help to build and preserve those skills, but the situations firefighters encounter in the field can be complicated to replicate. Firefighting training equipment aims to help bridge that gap.

  • Body, helmet and aerial cameras: If you’re going to go to the trouble of simulating a fire, explosion or vehicle crash, you want to make sure that you get the most out of that training opportunity. Wearable cameras capture the action so that trainees can review and learn from their performance.

  • Simulated smoke training tools: Smoke is a fact of life for firefighters, and learning how to operate in its presence is an essential aspect of firefighting safety training. But inhaling smoke can pose health risks. Firefighters need a way to train for smoke without actually being in smoke.

    • Smoke machines generate simulated smoke that is less hazardous to breathe, and face mask covers make operating around simulated smoke even safer. This gives firefighters the chance to practice operating in smoke-filled rooms without risking their health.

    • To go even further, firefighting training can utilize regulators that will introduce firefighters to the use of self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). This gives them practical experience with an essential firefighting tool but in a safe, controlled environment.

  • VR headsets: Even simulated scenarios can be expensive and dangerous. VR headsets allow firefighters to practice operating in dangerous situations without the expense or risk. While VR cannot replace the immediacy and efficacy of training in real situations, it can allow firefighters to develop and retain muscle memory in a safe environment where making a mistake carries a lower risk.

To learn more about the equipment firefighters use to train, read Firefighter training equipment: The essential list.

Aerial firefighting training

Aerial firefighting is an essential part of attacking wildfires. Firefighters will utilize aircraft to drop water or fire retardant either on a fire to help tamp it down or around a fire to help firefighters on the ground contain it. Needless to say, fighting fires with aircraft requires a whole host of specialized skills.


Aerial firefighting training isn’t typically done all at once. In fact, it’s more common that a pilot will begin training to become an aerial firefighter only after gaining extensive experience flying other aircraft.

A pilot’s unique flying background will help them in their journey to becoming an aerial firefighter. Different pilots come with different skill sets. An agricultural background (think crop dusters) will train a pilot to rise early and fly multiple missions without breaks. A pilot with bush pilot experience will know how to fly aircraft low to the ground. A military background will help teach a pilot how to work with large teams. All of these skills come in handy when training to become an aerial firefighter.


The common saying is that aerial firefighters are firefighters first and pilots second. Accordingly, there is a lot of firefighting-specific training that goes into learning how to become an aerial firefighter.

Among the skills an aerial firefighter must master are the following:

  • Communicating with air controllers and incident commanders.

  • Working with large teams of firefighters both in the air and on the ground.

  • Understanding the dynamics of dropping thousands of gallons of water into the environment.

  • Knowing exactly when and where to drop retardant to help support the firefighters on the ground without injuring anyone or damaging anything.

This is on top of the hundreds or thousands of hours of flying time on specific aircraft that a pilot must already have or gain in order to become an aerial firefighter.

Aerial firefighting training is administered by the private or public institutions that hire firefighters. These organizations typically set their own requirements and standards and develop training regimens for certifying aerial firefighters. But training doesn’t end when a pilot becomes a firefighter. Given the dangers involved, aerial firefighters are constantly reading manuals and training for specific scenarios.

For more information about aerial firefighting training, read What is aerial firefighting training and how is it taught?

Search and rescue training

Although no two search and rescue scenarios are the same, all search and rescue operations have one common enemy: time. The survival rate in the first two minutes of a search and rescue scenario is 66%, and that number begins to drop the longer it takes to conduct the rescue. That’s why firefighters train extensively for search and rescue operations.

The goal of any rescue operation is to bring victims to safety, but firefighters must also know how to do so without jeopardizing themselves or others. This requires extensive techniques that must become second nature to a firefighter. They have to learn how to practice their craft and make split-second decisions in some of the most unforgiving conditions imaginable. Training, therefore, is paramount.

Here are just a few of the aspects of search and rescue firefighters must learn:

  • Know your role: Rescues are a team effort. Different fire departments might have different role structures, and to make matters more complicated, rescues often involve trucks from different departments. Everyone involved must know their role and what is expected of them so that they can perform in concert and minimize risks.

  • Get a lay of the land: Virtually every search and rescue operation begins with a complete walk-around of the structure on fire. Firefighters will be looking for survivors, the specific location of the fire and any building features that will impact the operation.

  • Conduct a primary search: Only when prepared will firefighters begin the primary search. They will often search a structure in teams of two or three, carefully noting the locations of survivors or obstacles to the rest of the team as they go.

  • Move victims: Once located, victims must be removed from the burning structure. The primary consideration when doing so is keeping the victim’s head out of smoke. The method used to keep them safe will depend on the conditions in the building and the severity of the smoke.

Learn more about search and rescue training by reading Rescue ready: A guide to firefighter search and rescue training.

Improve your firefighting training with Axon

With so much at stake, you need every advantage you can get. Axon offers body-worn and vehicle cameras that can capture an incident from every point of view and a suite of software for gathering, reviewing and sharing videos and evidence of live fire exercises or even the real thing. Axon’s fire solutions can help you train and prepare, review performance and save lives. To learn more, reach out today.