To become a Firefighter, you must typically successfully pass a series of different testing processes that will determine your suitability for the position and the department you are applying for.
Typical components of a Firefighter hiring process may include, but are not limited to the following events (order of and actual events may vary):
More information on each of the above hiring process events can be found below.
Before you start learning about each of the phases of the Firefighter hiring process, let us share some resources that may be available to you (books, DVDs, etc.).
There are a number of quality resources out there for the Firefighter candidate to learn more about the process, as well as be the best they can be throughout the process. Some of the best resources include:
APPLYING FOR JOB OPENINGS:
To become a Firefighter, one must first submit an application to a fire department that is accepting applications. This is not as easy as it may sound as some fire departments only accept applications once every few years, some sooner, some later. Some fire departments have been known to take between five and ten years before their next Firefighter hiring process, meaning they kept an eligibility list that was created over five years ago. This is why it is critical to take every test you qualify for, even if you feel you may not yet be ready.
Before you can even apply, you have to find out which fire departments are even accepting applications. This too is not as easy as it may sound.
How do I find out which fire departments are accepting applications?
One of the best ways is to subscribe to testing notification services such as:
Additionally, do your own research by visiting fire department websites, city and county human resources websites, general Internet research, as well as stopping by fire stations to ask the personnel if they have any advice or if they know when they may next be accepting applications. The major benefit besides finding out who is testing, is that you start to see the trends in what fire departments in the area(s) you want to apply are asking for in the way of minimum requirements to apply. For example, if you want to work in the Denver, Colorado area and you see most of the fire departments requiring entry-level Firefighter candidates to possess Paramedic licensure as well as a certain certification, then it should be loud and clear that you need to get those requirements in order to apply.
Now that I know a fire department is accepting applications, should I apply? Or is it a waste of time since I don't have that much on my resume to offer a fire department?
Well, of course you should apply, assuming you meet the minimum qualifications! Why not? What's the worst that could happen? You get the job? You don't get the job? Becoming a Firefighter is an extremely competitive process, which will expose one to a lot of rejection and disappointment. This is not a career choice for the faint of heart or for those who are not willing to stick it out over a few years or more to get hired. Don't worry about not having a lot on your resume, as long as you meet the minimum qualifications to apply. Remember that Fire Chiefs don't hire resumes - they hire people! People with positive attitudes, and excellent character traits. Many have been hired without any formal fire related experience, education and/or training, and many who have a lot of formal experience, education and/or training have yet to be hired and may never be hired because of how they present or represent themselves during the hiring process, or because they cannot pass all phases of the hiring process.
How do I apply for a job at a fire department?
As mentioned above, most fire departments typically only accept applications during a certain time frame, that could be once every few years or more. Some fire departments will accept applications one or two days only, or over a brief period of time, such as a week or a couple of weeks. Some may even say they will only take the first 50, or 100 or say 500 applications. Even if they are accepting applications for a full day or more, don't be lulled into a false sense of security and take your time to apply because they will probably reach their maximum number very quickly.
Because of the short window to apply, it is critical to already have filled out at least one application for another fire department because the information requested on one application will probably not differ from the next department's application since many departments use the same type of application. A few departments will accept applications continuously, and when they reach a certain number on file, they will then hold their hiring process.
As for how to file the actual application, some departments accept applications online and some departments require you to show up in person to submit a printed out copy. Either way, know the window of time they will be accepting applications and as soon as you are able to submit it, submit it because an hour or two, or a day or two may mean the difference between moving on in the process or having to wait another five or more years to apply again!
Job application articles of interest published by Steve Prziborowski:
Resume related articles of interest and resumes published by Steve Prziborowski:
THE WRITTEN EXAMINATION:
The written examination is usually one of the first steps in the hiring process, and is used to start to weed out candidates who are prepared for or not prepared for the job. Candidates will typically have to pass a 100 question multiple choice quiz with a score of at least 70%, to continue to the next phase of the hiring process. Don't rely on just squeeking by with 70%; shoot for the high 90% range for your scores because some fire departments only take the top written test scores to the next part of the hiring process.
Typical areas evaluated on the written examination include but are not limited to:
Notice how we didn't even mention Firefighter skills such as Firefighter I or EMT or even Paramedic questions. Most fire departments will not provide a written examination on those job related areas UNLESS they require you to have such certification, education or training to apply. If they require something such as EMT or Paramedic or Firefighter I to apply, then it is fair game for them to test you on your knowledge, skills and abilities related to those areas.
There are a number of quality written examination testing resources out there for the candidate to improve their scores and learn more about the process. Some of the best resources include:
THE PHYSICAL ABILITY TEST:
The Physical Ability Test, or PAT for short, is used to determine if you are ready for the rigors of the Recruit Academy, as well as the career itself. The PAT is usually pass or fail, meaning as long as you pass the test in the minimum allowed amount of time, you are considered as good as the one who does it the fastest.
Typical events within a PAT may include, but are not limited to some of the following evaluation stations:
Some fire departments will administer their own PAT, but more and more fire departments are requiring a candidate to take (on their own) before they apply, a standardized PAT such as the CPAT (Candidate Physical Ability Test). Most departments allow a candidate to have a CPAT certificate that is no older than 12 months to apply. The benefit of the CPAT for candidates is that if they take it once, they don't have to take it again for typically 12 months. The drawback of the CPAT is just that. If you're not in the best shape you can be, and you (or the fire department evaluating you) relies on or accepts your CPAT certificate to apply that is 11 months old, or even 6 months old, it doesn't mean you are in the best shape you can be the day you apply.
For more information about the CPAT, including tips for success, locations to obtain your CPAT certificate in California (3 testing locations: Sacramento, Livermore and Orange), go to: http://www.cffjac.org/go/jac/cpat/
Another PAT used by many Southern California fire departments is the Los Angeles / Orange County Fire Chiefs Association Test, also known as the Biddle Test.
Additional Internet research on the CPAT and the Biddle, as well as physical fitness for the Firefighter preparation will also provide valuable information and tips for success.
THE ORAL INTERVIEW:
This is usually your first interview with fire department personnel, and may last anywhere from 10 minutes up to 30 minutes or more. There may be as few as four questions or even ten or more questions they ask you. There will typically be as few as two and as many as seven people that may or may not work for the fire department there to ask you a series of structured questions to determine whether you should continue to the next phase of the hiring process.
The oral interview is probably the most important and critical phase of the firefighter hiring process. Why? Because it usually makes up 100% of your final ranking on the hiring eligibility list. Yes, your entire career may come down to how well you do answering four questions in a 10 minute interview. Better be on top of your game when competing with hundreds of other candidates!
There are a number of quality oral interview testing resources out there for the candidate to improve their scores and learn more about the process. Some of the best resources include:
Oral interview articles of interest published by Steve Prziborowski:
THE CHIEF'S INTERVIEW:
In most departments, when a Fire Chief is getting ready to narrow down the pool of applicants to consider who should go through the final phases of the hiring process, such as the background investigation, medical evaluation, psychological evaluation and/or polygraph evaluation, they will typically have a second level interview known as a Chief's interview. It may be with the Fire Chief, the Fire Chief and someone from his/her senior staff, the Fire Chief and his/her team of Chief Officers (Deputy Chiefs, Assistant Chiefs, Division Chiefs, Battalion Chiefs, etc.), or it may be with some of the Chief Officers mentioned above, minus the Fire Chief.
For example, a fire department may interview 100 or more candidates, all of whom go through the oral interview. Those candidates are ranked and the hiring eligibilty list is created. If a Fire Chief wants to hire say 10 candidates, he or she may then choose to send 30 or 50 candidates (a much smaller number than who went through the first oral interview) to the Chief's interview, to start narrowing down the candidate pool to the best of the best. While the first oral interview is typically very structured (meaning they ask all candidates the same questions and typically don't deviate from their script of pre-determined oral interview questions), the Chief's interview is usually less structured, where they can pretty much ask you anything they want to; anything within legal reason that is.
The Chief's interview is usually much more personal since there are fewer candidates going through this phase; but, don't let your guard down and think it will be a casual interview. It's still part of your audition for the job. Dress professionally, be on your best behavior, and be prepared to answer ANY question about your background, yourself, and what you have to offer the department. The Chief's interview will usually be longer than the first oral interview, and can last as little as 10 minutes or even an hour or more.
Some departments require as part of their testing process, that the candidate complete a skills related test that may focus on EMT or Paramedic knowledge, skills and abilities, or Firefighter I knowledge, skills and abilities. If a fire department does not require a certain certificate or license to apply (such as EMT, Paramedic or Firefighter I), then they cannot test you on anything related to those certificates or licenses.
However, if they do require something to apply, then it is fair game to test you on those areas of training you claim to have. Why? Because once you go through EMT, Paramedic or Firefighter I training, if you're not using and practicing those knowledge, skills and abilities, you'll lose your expertise within 30 days of the end of each of those courses, if not sooner. It is not uncommon for over half of the candidates to fail the skills testing stations should a fire department require the candidate to complete them before moving on to the next phase of the hiring process. Use it or lose it!
THE BACKGROUND INVESTIGATION:
The background investigation is used by virtually every fire department, to determine one's suitability for the position. One of the key parts of this phase is having the candidate complete a background packet that could be upwards of 20 pages or more.
Within a typical background packet, you will be asked for items such as:
The key to success is to be complete, be accurate, be honest, and do not appear to be hiding anything. Just because you were arrested for a DUI charge (and convicted) doesn't mean you won't get the job offer. One thing by itself typically doesn't disqualify a candidate or make a Fire Chief want to pass on you. Lying about the DUI, not taking responsibility for your actions or non-actions, trying to blame someone else for what happened to you, or a continual history or track record of poor decision making (such as multiple DUIs) is what will typically disqualify you.
Typical questions a background investigator may ask those you say are ok to contact on your behalf as a reference (family, friends, past/current employers):
Remember that nobody is perfect. The job of the background investigator is to verify and validate the information you provide, as well as look for discrepancies, falsifications, inaccuracies, or inconsistencies that may lead to your disqualification from the process.
THE MEDICAL EVALUATION:
The pre-employment medical evaluation/examination is usually one of the last steps in the hiring process, before one enters the Recruit Academy. The fitness for duty evaluation will be administered by a physician to verify that the candidate is ready for the rigors of the Recruit Academy and the career itself. Physicians will usually follow the NFPA 1582 Standard on Comprehensive Occupational Medical Program for Fire Departments.
THE PSYCHOLOGICAL EVALUATION:
Not every fire department has a candidate complete a pscyhological evaluation/examination. For departments that do require candidates to successfully complete this portion of the hiring process, it is not uncommon to have 25% or more candidates not receive a passing score of at least a C (see below for an example of a rating scale used), thus become disqualified for continuing in the hiring process.
While there are different types of rating scales, one common way a psychologist may rate a candidate (after having you take a written multiple choice test with 500 plus questions, as well as other writing exercises such as an essay) is through a letter score, such as A, B, C, C-, and D, just like in school. Pscyhologists can't tell a Fire Chief what to do or who to hire. But, the advice they can offer based on their time interviewing a candidate is usually taken very seriously and their advice is usually followed.
While many in the fire service still discount what a pscyhologist can bring to the table, the information they will typically provide the Fire Chief is usually spot on, in regards to what to expect the candidate to do, how they will perform, how they will act, etc. They are usually pretty good about letting a Fire Chief be aware of how a candidate's background will come into play in the future, based on past performance. As Gordon Graham (retired CHP Captain) says, "the best predictor of future behavior, is past behavior!"
THE POLYGRAPH EVALUATION:
Also known as the lie detector test, is a great tool to help flush out issues that may come out of one's background investigation and/or pscyhological evaluation, and narrow down a candidate's suitability for a position. Although not every fire department uses this phase of the hiring process, it is a process to be aware of and you can find information on the Internet to give you more details of what to expect. The person performing the polygraph will ask you many of the same questions you were asked during the background investigation and the pscyhological evaluation, to ensure consistency and to drill down to any areas of concern.
THE RECRUIT ACADEMY:
The recruit academy is typically a formal, rigorous para-military academy that teaches a newly hired Firefighter the basics of being a Firefighter and performing the necessary duties and responsibilities of the position. The academy may be as short as a month in duration and as long as six months in duration, and will typically be Monday through Friday for at least eight (8) hours per day. Expect to have homework every night and on the weekends, to prepare for the next day's lecture and quiz. Even if you have completed a Firefighter 1 Academy through a community college or another department's recruit academy, you will still be expected to complete (in most cases) the academy for the department who hires you.
Some may wonder, why go through a college Firefighter 1 Academy if the department who hires me will put me through theirs? Well, for a few reasons:
Those that get hired by a fire department and who have never been through a college Firefighter 1 Academy have a higher risk of getting released by the fire department during their recruit academy, which is not a good career move for you, especially if you've quit your job to go to the fire department. Also, once you get terminated by one fire department, it's very tough to get hired by another fire department.
Some of the reasons why newly hired Firefighters get released during the recruit academy include, but are not limited to:
THE PROBATIONARY PERIOD:
The probationary period, which is usually the final step in the hiring process, will either begin on the first day of the recruit academy or the first day after the recruit academy. The probationary process can last anywhere between 12 and 36 months, and you can be terminated for any reason, of which they are not obligated to tell you why you were released. Reasons for termination can include, but are not limited to: not scoring at least 80% on your monthly or quarterly or final skills and/or written tests; having tardiness or abseneeism problems; not getting along with your fellow Firefighters; attitude or behaviorial issues; physical fitness issues, or just not fitting into their "family" and/or their "culture."
Probationary period articles of interest published by Steve Prziborowski:
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The Future Firefighter's Preparation Guide by Steve Prziborowski
Reach for the Firefighter Badge by Steve Prziborowski