In the fire service, these are the words we all long to hear at some point in our career, whether we are starting out at the entry level and getting hired for the first time, or you have been promoted to an engineer or company officer position and are reporting for the first shift in your new role. When you advance through the ranks there is also the prospect of making a chief level position, going from the truck to the battalion chief buggy, where the real challenges lie in wait!!!
This series from the Fire Mentor of “Welcome to the Truck!” will be a four part series that will help you prepare/train and focus on the main phases of competing for the positions of recruit firefighter (entry level), engineer (lower management), company officer (mid-management), and battalion chief/division chief (executive management).
Entry Level – Recruit Process
We will start out with entry level or recruit firefighter hiring processes. While there are a million books, websites, and videos written by some of the best in the industry we will take a more simplistic and centered methodology on getting ready for the first and hopefully last hiring process you will ever have to take!!
There are generally two types of entry level firefighting processes that you could be exposed to; one is what I would describe as the local or department driven process and the second one is a third party process developed by a company or consulting firm. Don’t be fooled! Both of these processes are usually very comprehensive, don’t assume since a process was developed by the department that it is any less challenging, as most departments have very talented individuals in their training divisions with years of experience.
Entry level firefighter processes, whether developed by the home team (department) or created by a firm will have some very basic phases throughout the process. Some processes may vary, but from my experience these are what you will encounter: written exam, physical agility testing, and an oral interview. Anyone of these phases can come in any order. In my department for example we like to give the physical agility test first as this costs us nothing and is a good indicator of a person’s drive and motivation and how they perform in front of their prospective peers. Are the candidates friendly, arrogant, is the test very challenging for them (which means they didn’t prepare properly), or did they crush the test because they were prepared and now go into the oral interview with a confidence builder under their belt?
Now that we have the basic phases on the table let’s break them down and set up a plan for success! For the sake of argument let’s assume the written exam is the first phase. As I mentioned earlier, there are a multitude of books, videos, and online tools you can access to assist you in preparing for this phase. You can even go online and take practice exams, which I believe to be beneficial! What you can expect from most written exams is that they will be general in knowledge as most departments realize they are going to have to train you once hired, they are more concerned with knowing that you have basic reading comprehension, math, memorization techniques, and mechanical awareness.
So when you start to figure out that you need a study guide or begin seeking assistance email The Fire Mentor. Some other credible resources are: the US Military’s ASVAB study guides, Fire Engineering, Firehouse, and there are even some departments such as Henrico County, VA, FDNY, LA City, and Tulsa, OK that put their study guides on line for you to access. The bottom line with written exams is that when you find out the date of the exam start to study and concentrate on the basics as we discussed earlier and you will do well.
Physical Agility Testing
The second phase of the hiring process could be the physical agility test. These tests vary from agency to agency as the east is from the west!! The good thing is that you have total control over this portion of the process, you can be totally prepared and knock this one out of the park and the resources available to you for preparation are endless! Most agility testing will consist of some type of obstacle course, no I don’t mean climbing walls and scaling cargo nets like the Army, but there will be several stations or events that you will have to navigate through and successfully complete in order to continue. These stations will usually be a pass/no pass obstacle, meaning if you do not complete it you do not continue on and you are eliminated from the entire hiring process. Also, some departments time this phase as a way to judge/measure you against their department and other candidates that you are competing against for a career.
So how do you prepare, hit the gym!!! You don’t have to become a “cross fitter”, but you do have to maximize your cardio output. These agility tests usually will hit your lungs and legs the hardest. You will need to get a cardio regimen put into place, start early so that the day of the test you are flying through the “O” course. Some of the obstacles you will encounter could be: a dummy drag (usually 150 lbs. or more), hose line drag, sledge hammer drill/Kaiser sled, stair climb event usually with a high rise pack, there could be a confined space crawl, just to test your claustrophobia, and potentially an aerial climb if the department has an aerial or practices aerial operations. Some great resources to take a look at for preparing for an agility test might be: fireprep.com, CPAT from the IAFF/IAFC, and firefighternation.com.
The third phase is the oral interview. This phase usually is reserved for those that have passed the first two phases and have been asked to return and proceed through the process. Depending on the department, this interview could be called the Chief’s interview where it is you and the Fire Chief having an interview or you will be brought in front of a panel of firefighter and officers for questioning, it will feel like you are undergoing the Spanish inquisition!! That’s OK and normal, everyone else is going through the same thing, the difference between you and them is preparation!!
There are a few things you can do before you get there to help ensure your first impression is a good one and boost your confidence: dress for success, be early, research and prepare for the questions, don’t drink four cups of coffee before the interview!! Your appearance speaks volume to the chief or the board, even though this is an entry level position you need to dress as though you are applying for the Chief’s job, this shows you are a professional and take your career very seriously, a suit and tie is the minimum, nothing less. Shine your shoes, get a haircut, and a good shave, side burns and goatees might be cool at the mall but will not help you with this board. Also, if you have piercings or something distracting, take it out before you get there.
Question preparation begins with online research. There are literally hundreds of books and websites all online that will prepare you for some of the most common questions that every interview uses, they might be worded slightly different, but they are basically the same. For the questioning, it is good to have prepared answers in your head before the interview, this way you are not searching for a response. When speaking you must sound solid, don’t guess your answers, but take a deep breath and give a solid response to every question, try not to use the” um’s” and “uh’s” when giving a response. Another sure fire way to ace the interview is to do a practice run before the real one, this can be accomplished by actually sitting in front of a group of people that will judge you fairly, i.e. your family (sometimes the harshest critics!) or co-workers. The second way is to video your responses as someone asks you questions, this gives you an opportunity to critique yourself to see if there are any issues, you could also email me, The Fire Mentor, your video and I will give you feedback.
The entry level firefighter process is something we could talk about for days, that’s why people write books and I have a website for assistance as the information is vast and we could go into a great deal more. Just remember a few key important guidelines and you will perform well: preparation is key with all phases, make sure you are physically and mentally in shape, arrive early for every step in the process, ask for help (www.thefirementor.net), do research on the department you are applying for-you just might find out the key to success, and take every phase in the process seriously, this is your career and you can bet if you are not taking it seriously everyone else is!!
Stay safe and we’ll see you at the next one, the second installment of the “Welcome to the truck!” series; the Engineer/Driver Operator process.
Should you have any questions or comments, please go to www.thefirementor.net or message me/email me from Facebook: The Fire Mentor