So I jumped headfirst into a seemingly very shallow pool.
First, I went to every Fire Departments website within 30 miles of my home, which is quite a few. I found which would be doing testings for their fire lists and started applying. Within a few days I found 2 or 3 websites dedicated to following that sort of thing, so I would get alerts without having to do so much legwork.
Next, I bought several books on preparing for firefighting tests and took some practice tests on the web. Luckily, most fire departments don't expect you to know anything about Fire Service for the actual tests. It is mostly spacial awareness, memory, math skills, logic skills, and deductive reasoning.
Then, after looking through the options for getting other qualifications out of the way, I signed up to take a EMT course. The vast majority of Fire Fighters in Illinois are also trained as Paramedics. I did some research and signed up to start my EMT course in January of 2010.
Finally, I'd been working out before, and my wife and I had done some short Triathlons before she'd had her clotting issues, but I'd have to step it up. Initially, I focused on just the skills I would need in order to pass the physical exam. Almost every fire department in the Greater Chicagoland area uses a physical exam called the CPAT - Candidate Physical Ability Test. This allows someone pursuing a Fire Service career to take 1 physical test and apply it to countless departments. That's very helpful. Unfortunately, while the test technically never expires, most departments have a requirement that you have passed the test within the last calendar year-some as soon as within the last 6 months.
Getting ready for the physical test was my first big hurdle. I started this process in very late 2009, and I believe I signed up to take the test in February of 2010. The first department to which I felt I could be ready to apply tested in March.
All this meant my wife had to do a lot of the preparations for the baby. I helped where I could, but I was often busy. There is no way for me to explain how much she helped or how much it meant to me, and I'm afraid I didn't thank her sufficiently for it at the time.
Or since, really.