My Journey of Becoming a Firefighter

I have been an EMT for 3 and a half years now, and I am now finishing up classes to become a firefighter. I’ve been in this class for almost 6 months and I am almost done. I am currently on a volunteer fire department in the small town I live in.

How narcolepsy impacted my plans

As I was growing up, I was set on becoming a teacher, but my senior year of high school came around and that was when my narcolepsy symptoms started to take over, and I missed so much school. I think because I got away from liking school and was going to so many different doctors, I got into the healthcare field.

I always wanted to get into the fire side, but until my narcolepsy diagnosis, I knew that wasn’t an option because I could barely even keep a job. I became an EMT before my diagnosis, which was pretty tough, but I am so glad I stuck with it.

I finally felt it was the right time

After my diagnosis, which was almost 2 years ago, and finding the right way to manage my symptoms, I got thinking again about the fire side of things. This past fall, I started to think about starting the firefighting 1 class.

I thought long and hard, going back and forth about it for some time. I really looked at my life and thought that now that I have my life together and health under control, I felt that it was the right time.

Asking for help

It definitely hasn’t been easy. I haven’t been in school since being diagnosed with narcolepsy, and I wasn’t sure how it would go. I had to reach out to the college accommodation center and request accommodations. That took a couple of weeks, but I got what I needed to succeed in class. I asked for someone to read my tests, extra time on tests, and a separate room for tests.

Firefighter 1 written and practical exams

For firefighter 1, you have 2 separate sets of certification tests: a total of 4 exams. There is a written and practical for hazmat certifications and a written and practical for firefighter 1 certification.

I remember these tests from when I had to take them for my EMT certification, but I personally feel like these are a little tougher. I have passed the hazmat part and have my firefighter 1 exams this month (April) and next month (May).

Questions my classmates have asked

So far, I’ve already gotten so many questions from classmates and even people in my department. Just some of those questions have been, “Can you even be on a fire department with narcolepsy?” I straight up said, “Yeah, you can actually.”

Another one I have been asked is, “Have you thought about how you can do these things (participate on actual fire calls) in the real world?”

This one really made me angry because it shows how little people know about narcolepsy and even other rare conditions. I have to think about my narcolepsy daily with everything I do, so of course I have thought about this.

What it's like on my fire department

Most of the people on my fire department are pretty understanding, but there are some who are not. It’s already hard being the only female on the department, let alone the only one with a rare condition.

Some on the department don’t seem to take me seriously, and I’ve gotten to the point where I just don’t talk to them or even try to talk to them.

What does the future hold?

Right now, I’m not entirely sure where I see my career in both EMT and firefighter in the next 5 or 10 years. I have been a volunteer for over 2 years and it works well for me.

Most career firefighters have a schedule that they work, which is normally 24 hours on and 48 hours off. Unless I could get accommodations with scheduling or they come out with more treatments for narcolepsy, I will most likely just continue doing volunteer as long as possible.

Don't doubt yourself

If you have been wondering if you can do a certain job because you have narcolepsy, don’t doubt yourself. We may have to do some of these things differently, but we can absolutely do them.

I would recommend getting accommodations for classes and make sure you’re upfront about what you need. I have learned that if I just am straightforward with things and my narcolepsy, it has helped me so much.

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