How to Become a First Responder: Certification & Training Requirements

Oct 20, 2021

Research the requirements to become a first responder. Learn about the job description and read the step-by-step process to start a career in emergency medical services.

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What Is a First Responder?

Also known as emergency medical responders, first responders are the earliest healthcare workers to arrive at an accident or scene of a medical emergency. As a crucial part of the emergency medical assistance team, a first responder quickly assesses emergency situations, calls an ambulance, and administers first aid. They must be able to remain calm in the midst of life-or-death crisis situations.

Becoming a first responder requires a high school diploma or GED, completion of training classes, and certification.

First responder training must be state-approved

First Responder Training & Certification Requirements

First responders are required to complete a state-approved training course and to obtain NREMT and CPR certification in order to work in emergency situations.

Education Level High school diploma or GED
Training State-approved first responder course
Certification Certification from National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT), CPR certification
Key Skills Technical, first-aid, crisis management, organizational, communication
Salary (2019)* $35,400 (Median annual salary for EMTs and paramedics)

Sources: National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians, U.S. Department of Transportation, National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians, *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Now let's check out the career steps in order to learn how to become a certified first responder.

How to Become a First Responder

There are several steps that you will need to take, beginning with training. By following the steps below, you can obtain first responder certification:

  • Obtain CPR training
  • Complete a first responder course
  • Get NREMT certification

Step 1: Obtain CPR Training

First responders are required to have certification in CPR for healthcare providers. Training and certification are found through the National Institutes of Health, the American Heart Association, and other venues. Courses provide more in-depth certified first responder training than standard layperson CPR courses. Instruction includes 1- and 2-rescuer CPR techniques, use of an automatic external defibrillator, and rescue breathing.

Step 2: Complete a State-Approved First Responder Course

After learning how to perform CPR, how are first responders trained? The U.S. Department of Transportation First Responder National Standard Curriculum is the standard for first responder training. The curriculum is divided into seven modules for a total of 26 lessons addressing patient preparation, airway management, patient assessment, circulation, medical emergencies and illnesses, situations involving childbirth and infants, and EMS operations. The course also teaches students how to use certain medical equipment and report to responding emergency medical technicians and authorities. The 40-hour course takes around 30 days to complete.

To really stand out, take classes in anatomy and similar disciplines. A knowledge of human anatomy and physiology will help with understanding the skills needed as a first responder.

Step 3: Take the Certification Exam for Career Advancement

The National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) offers certification and recertification to first responders. Applicants must pass cognitive and psychomotor examinations, which are taken through a state licensing agency and the NREMT. The cognitive portion of the exam covers a full range of emergency medical care topics, while the psychomotor test consists of a hands-on demonstration of learned emergency skills. Upon completion of exams, certification is awarded, which can expand opportunities for employment as a first responder.


There are two terms that you may see when you are looking into EMR certification. EMT stands for emergency medical technician, and it denotes a job based on caring for emergency patients while they are in transport to a hospital. EMR, on the other hand, is the standard abbreviation for emergency medical responder, which is the same as a first responder. An EMR is responsible for providing initial care for a patient while waiting for other emergency medical services to arrive.

How Do I Become a Community First Responder?

So far, this article has discussed working as an EMR as part of your career. However, in some states, it is possible to pursue first responder training for civilians in order to become a volunteer first responder. In order to pursue this course, you will need to look into the regulations that your state and municipal emergency services have. Some will offer training for volunteers, while others prefer to train only EMRs and EMTs. In some areas, the American Red Cross provides this training for those who are interested in it.

To recap, with a CPR card, completion of a state-approved program, and certification, a certified first responder can earn about $35,400 a year to quickly assess emergency situations, call an ambulance, and administer first aid.

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