Im currently pursuing a career in FF but here in Illinois most departments you have to be 21 to apply. First off I currently work for a private ambulance company. It is not a very exciting jobs, it is basically hospital to nursing home, home, or hospital transfers. The pay sucks with all privates as an EMT-B because the turnover rate is so high. They know most people are just doing this until they get their EMT-P cert or get on a paid dept.
I currently work 3 12 hr shifts a week sun-tues, its really not that bad, because I am planning on getting a second job over the summer. But as I said the pay sucks. I make 9/hr with a 5$ bonus on every call if the paperwork is done right, we usually run 4-6 calls in 12 hrs.
As for getting on a dept as a FF, here you MUST have your EMT-B and your CPAT (certified physical agility test?) cert to even apply. Google the CPAT, it doesnt seem that bad. Many departments are also requiring you to be an EMT-P to even put in an app. The competition is tough and with the economy a lot of dept are on a hiring freeze. Some depts will also hire you on and then if you do not complete and receive your EMT-P cert within your 1 year probation you are fired, but if you do get hired that way they pay for medic school.
Now a days with how houses and building are being built the majority of calls an FD takes is EMS, at least from my understanding, which is why being a medic is becoming to crucial. Personally I intend to apply for about a year and at that point if I do not have a job I will attend medic school. Also a good thing about working for the an ambulance is that it keeps you up to date on your CE (continued education) which you need an x amount of every 2-4 years to keep you license active. if it lapses you have to retake the whole course.
Also from my understanding Fl is a “special” state. hiring is slow there now and how they accept certs seems to be goofy. Go talk to one of your local FD and see what they say. But if you are interested in this career 100% get your EMT-B ASAP.
Another good site is www.firehouse.com hover your mouse over the community tab on the home page and click on forums, lots of really good information in there, use the search engine, which actually works and read up on everything you can. There are many experienced and intelligent men and women on that site that are more than willing to answer your questions.
Honestly I have no intention of re reading my post to check for clarification and sorry it is kind of a cluster f*ck. if you have any more questions feel free to PM me or post it here. I am not the most knowledgeable seeing as i am not even in the profession yet but i have done a lot of research and will happily answer anything I possibly can.
Side note- HTowner- it seems like texas is doing a lot of hiring now, if you have any good information regarding texas FF i would really appreciate it. Thanks and good luck, stay safe.