The Firefighter Interview Guide
The following is small review of The Firefighter Interview E-Book
Sweaty Palms. That’s really the only thing I remember about my first Fire Department interview.
Even right after the interview I had almost no recollection of what I said, much less of keeping good eye contact. Just that I had the sweatiest palms in America and I should of been given an award for sticking it out through all of the “Uhh”s, “Uhmm”s and awkward silences I threw into my answers.
Had it been a televised event, you would of covered your eyes and changed the channel from my embarrassment. They probably wondered if English was my first language, or if I had a hearing or learning deficit.
You’ll be shocked to learn the Oral Board did not hire the mumbling, overly- sweaty teenager dressed in khaki’s and a polo.
I made a mistake that’s made by more than half of the candidates applying for firefighter positions. I did not adequately prepare for the Interview.
If you have it set in your mind that you absolutely must work in the Fire Service then learn this lesson from my prior mistake; The Interview is all that matters.
Most other exams are pass/fail, leaving it up to an Oral board to decide who will be hired from a large pool of potential candidates. It must be prepared for accordingly. It takes most people a long time to realize this.
They get stuck in a terrible, vicious cycle of written, physical and psych exams at different departments only to have it all come crashing down at the Oral Board. Sometimes for years.
Winners and losers are separated by fractions of a point in the results. If you accept now that your interview skills are something that should be practiced and studied with the work ethic of an Organic Chemistry final, you’ll save yourself a lot of heartache and wasted opportunity.
So, now that we’re on the same page about the importance of the Interview let’s get you up to speed on the basics.
Although most departments are strictly electronic submission when it comes to applications these days, they usually give a spot to upload your resume rather than fill out an incredibly long and infuriating list of questions in a strange format.
This is the first impression a department will get of you. Most of the time the oral board has a stack of them and they take a quick glance at yours about 30 seconds before you walk into the room. Don’t count on anybody reading it thoroughly if it’s over a page long. Make it easy on both yourself and the board by condensing it down to the most relevant details. These include:
- Name & Address
- Phone & Email
- Work History (Most Recent/ Relevant)
- Volunteer and/or Community Service
Suit up! There’s no other way around it!
That means your dusty sports jacket from high school won’t do. Neither will khakis and a tie.
This is a career most people dedicate 25 years of their life to. You can bet the competition won’t slack in this department.
A black or navy suit with a button down and matching tie. For ladies, make it a pants suit. If money is an issue hit the local thrift store circuit. I’ve found decent suits there when I was living on a ramen diet. Take out a loan if you have to.
It should go without saying you need to be on time. However, it seems that life saves all of its bad things up and takes a dump on you the day of your interview. From now on, show up to every major appointment you have in life at least 15 minutes early. Leave your phone in your car/apartment.
Most people don’t realize that anyone can walk into an interview board and get the highest score.
It doesn’t have to be the guy with the “Volunteer Firefighter” bumper sticker across the entire tailgate of his truck.
It doesn’t have to be the gal with the master’s in fire science, or the already employed firefighter with rusty interview skills looking to jump departments.
Anyone that meets minimum requirements, which is basically a High school diploma and felony free record, can get this job.
Candidates who currently work at other departments or with advanced schooling wreck their interviews all the time. It’s not how many certifications or degrees or years of experience you have, It’s how you sell those things that get you the job.
You have to convince the board that you already have everything it takes to do this job, that you’re just a firefighter without a badge. This can be done easily without jobs, certifications and school. It just takes dedication.
Instead of trolling the internet for lists of interview questions and breezing over them in your head, you need to pick specific questions and take the time to write out exactly how you can sell yourself to the fullest extent for that question.
The interview won’t have 25 questions, probably more like ten. Each one needs to count. You have to squeeze as many points out of every question as you can.
To do that without sounding like everyone else you have to have unique, interesting and mostly true stories.
I say mostly true because hey, everybody embellishes.
That takes time. Then, after you have these answers written out you have to practice them. You have to practice saying them. You have to hear how dumb you sound on a digital recorder and polish your presentation like an actor auditioning for a broadway play.
Even though the recorder is crucial, you wont do it.
Not right away.
You may even waste another job opportunity because you won’t commit one hour a day to listening how bad you sound stumbling through answers.
“But my Mom/Girlfriend/Person who won’t hurt my feelings says my speaking is great!”.
They are lying, just as you would do for them.
Think you don’t say “umm” or “uhh” when speaking? Turn on the news and watch someone giving a press conference.
Count their “umm”s. Now realize they get paid a lucrative salary to talk to the press.
I’m thinking you probably don’t. Practicing exactly what your going to say eliminates those. Here’s an example of how answers improve after thought and practice, just picture the second answer without “uhh”s.
Oral Board: “Firefighters need to be able to recognize their own strengths and weaknesses. As a potential candidate, what do you consider your biggest weakness?”
Me, the first few times around: “I sometimes have trouble with organization. My car is a mess and I occasionally lose things but I never let that interfere with me getting my job done so I consider myself a great candidate for this job.”
Basically, what I told the interview board was “I’m a sloppy, lazy guy who might regularly lose important stuff you give to him.”
Over time, and after some coaching, I realized this was a Terrible answer.
Remember, every question is an opportunity to sell yourself as a firefighter, including death traps like this one.
You want to give them something small, that’s completely repairable. Then, show them how you’ve already taken the time to fix it and how it makes you a valuable addition to their department.
After taking a few interviews I noticed this question popping up quite a bit, so I took the time to fix it permanently.
New and Improved Me:
“Well, LT. Jones. Until recently I had no real experience with speaking a second language. I decided since I’ve chosen to pursue a career in fire protection this puts me at a disadvantage.
You know better than I that firefighters have to be prepared for anything at a moments notice.
Picture this: we arrive on scene at a rolling house fire with a woman pointing at the house and screaming at us in spanish. There is no time to phone a translator and since I don’t speak spanish.
I have no idea she’s telling me her disabled mother is in the second story bedroom.
That’s valuable information. Since I don’t want to be left out of the loop, I recently ordered Rosetta Stone. I’m now halfway through the program.
I’m sure you know that this city has a relatively large spanish speaking community. I want to work in this city as a firefighter.
This skill, and my determination to turn even my biggest weaknesses into strengths is why I would make an excellent addition to your department.”
With every question, take the time to knock them out of the park. Try to consistently give them the best answer they’ve ever heard.
I had wanted to order rosetta stone anyway, so I incorporated it into an answer.
It could of been done with a cheaper spanish program as well. Firefighters don’t have to be able to ask about your favorite movies or discuss politics with you in spanish, they just need to know when, where, why, who, and how.
If you take the time, you too can come up with homerun answers as well. Here’s another for inspiration.
“Lt. Jones, I used to be terribly out of shape. I wasn’t taught to eat healthy things when growing up and like most other kids in the 90′s the T.V. acted as my babysitter.
My low point was when my doctor sat me down and told me I was at an increased risk for health problems because of my weight and lack of exercise.
I still didn’t do anything.
It wasn’t until I made the conscious decision to pursue a career in fire protection that healthy meals and regular, daily exercise became a part of my life.
My first CPAT was a disaster, that was my wake-up call to how bad my situation really was and what I would need to do to get the career of my dreams.
However, it’s only a few short months later and not only did I blow the door’s off this CPAT, but I’m well on my way to becoming a certified Personal Trainer.
I realize that the number one killer of firefighters is heart disease and that education is the best defense.
Now I’ll be able to protect myself and anyone who needs my help from the dangers of cardiac failure.
My relentless determination to overcome even my biggest obstacles is why I would make a good addition to this fine department.”
It’s relatively short, can be said in about a minute and shows you are very determined to work as a firefighter.
There are tons of skills that can be learned. They don’t have to involve the fire department, but if your going to make the effort you might as well get the best results.
Here are some more examples of skills you can pick up on your own time that make you more attractive to hiring departments.
- Emergency Medical Skills
- Rescue Swimming
- Knots and High Angle Rescue
- Foreign Languages
- Public Speaking (Firefighters do it regularly)
- Conquering Acrophobia
- Conquering Claustrophobia
- Getting a CDL License
- Becoming a Personal Trainer
1. Find Important Firefighter Interview Questions
You can make a list if your going from memory, or sign up for the newsletter in the top right corner and get some of the most common questions.
Pick 10 questions you feel are important or that you’ve heard before. These are the questions to build answers for.
Remember: Some questions basically ask the same thing. For instance, “Why do you want to be a firefighter”, and “What makes you think you have what it takes to become a firefighter in this department” can be answered with the same core answer you’ve built pre-interview.
Departments ask tons of similar questions and if you have a great story/answer lined up, you can present it where it fits.
Most interviews give you time to think about your answer before speaking. Don’t be the guy who immediately starts talking only to sputter out seconds later with umms and uhhs.
Take the time to custom fit your memorized answer for the scenario.
Don’t worry about if they’ll ask the exact question you prepared for later, departments usually don’t have time to beat subjects to death.
They have to know as much about you in as few questions as possible. People are on the clock and the city is paying overtime.
If it does come up, remember you’ve already wow’ed them once. Muscle through it the best you can without reiterating too much and move on.
Pick questions that stick out to you and make a list of ten.
Everyone makes mistakes, name one of yours. What did you learn from it?
( Well Jim, it didn’t start out as my mistake but my refusal to learn from it made it mine.
You see “I used to be terribly out of shape. I wasn’t taught to eat healthy things when growing up and like most other kids in the 90′s the T.V. acted as my babysitter.
My low point was when my doctor sat me down and..” Sound familiar? It’s my previous answer to “Everyone has strengths and weaknesses pick one of your weaknesses.
This is an example of how you make great personal answers that can be used in different interviews. Save prep time by practicing now so you can scope for city specifics* when your date is announced.)
What is the best perk that comes with a career in the fire service?
(Why do you want to be a firefighter? Haha)
What is the most important characteristic of a firefighter?
(Heads up. Honor, Courage and Integrity pop up in everybody’s brain first. Don’t be an average joe. Pick a good one and show a time you knocked it out of the park yourself.)
Name a time in your life you had to make a difficult decision, explain the circumstances. Would you make the same choice?
(Do not mention College Majors, Girlfriends or pastry choices. You may be asked to leave.)
Describe a time you and a previous supervisor didn’t agree. What did you do about it? What came of the situation?
(Do you trash talk former employers? are you diplomatic and well spoken? Was there a specific time your level headedness and negotiation skills actually saved a tiny baby?)
What have you done to prepare for this interview?
(What have you done to prepare for a career as a firefighter? basically same question. Make them believe you’ve been preparing for this job since you we’re gumming toy fire trucks as a toddler. That you’re already a firefighter, just without a home and specific training.)
Where do you see yourself in a decade?
( Rubbish Answer: Well I would like be right here sir. Maybe an engineer or even Lieutenant. Perhaps with a small family, maybe a side business so I can make some more income. A son named Bradley. Maybe a daughter, me and my imaginary wife haven’t decided yet.
Gag me with a spoon!
Here’s a better one:
*Smile on face* Within ten years I Will be sitting in the officer seat of one of your fire engines.
I Will have taken and completed, to the best of my ability, every course and class offered by the department or state fire college that I can get my hands on.
I Will have dedicated my spare time to make sure I have the superior education and experience in EMS, Firefighting, Technical Rescue and Leadership skills that it takes to succeed as a leader in the fire service… and so on)
What do you consider to be your strongest asset?
(Not strength, determination or courage please)
Why would you make a good firefighter?
( See the previous question.
Note how with a little quick spinning in your head you can change “Well Jim, I consider myself to be well rounded but my strongest asset would be ____. For instance, *personal story*”
“Well Jim, I believe I possess all the needed traits to make a good firefighter but the biggest reason would be ____. For instance, *Same personal story*”
Whichever question you run into, you have a homerun answer. Make sure your 10 questions are as different as possible so you can cover more bases.)
Would you rather work solo or as part of a team, Why?
( Are you applying for a lone desk job, or as a member of a highly organized team that extinguishes burning buildings and rescues people from wrecked vehicles?)
What tasks are a firefighter expected to perform?
(Did you take the time to read the job description of the job your applying for? are you a lost, confused stoner who wandered in here by accident? Volunteer experience can give you stories to sell yourself here.)
There are many candidates, what do you have to offer that the others are lacking?
(See if it’s starting to sound redundant, selling aspects of yourself like a salesman.
You might want to pick 2 or 3 answers or traits and polish them so you can show them in the best way possible. They’re very versatile.)
It’s 9:00pm in the firehouse and you’ve finished all the night cleaning, including the apparatus and kitchen. After showering, your walking to bed when you notice someone has spilled cola all over the counter top and it’s dripping onto the floor. People are still awake watching TV in the day room and you’ve already confirmed with your Lt. you’re going to bed. What do you do, why?
( Every interview will have a question similar to this, it’s asking one thing. “Do you understand that you’re the rookie?” The answer is always clean the mess without complaint.)
Would you ever disobey a direct order?
( There should be very few instances of this. Following orders to the T is the grease that keeps the wheels of the department moving.
However, if someone orders you to do something that needlessly risks your life such as running into a fully involved flimsy mobile home when every living thing has already been cleared, find a polite way to tell them to shove it up their ass.
We risk lives for lives. Not lives for wedding albums, or even fluffy. Also remember you can’t be ordered to do anything immoral.
Cleaning dishes, touching poop and running into salvageable burning buildings though? yeah, your doing it. Dreams do come true!)
What are your Hobbies/Interests
(Also works for “Tell us a little about yourself”. Make nice conversation, say one or two interesting things to help build rapport and move on. No fetishes, last weekend’s party with your bros, or life philosophy. Keep it short and classy.)
What changes do you think the Fire Department will go through in your career?
(Do you know anything about the current fire service? Are you keeping up to date with policies and technology? This is a changing field.
In Japan, they’re working on heat resistant, damage resistant robots that roll in to fires and scoop people out. Ask the board how they’d feel about losing their job to R2D2. That’s a joke.)
It’s the end of your shift. Your friend from recruit school calls and asks you to hang over for him as he’s running late. When he arrives you find him to be unkept and reeking of alcohol. He tells you he’s very grateful for you hanging over the few minutes as his alarm didn’t go off this morning. He walks and talks perfectly fine into the station to clock in. What, if anything, do you do?
( Also in some form on every interview. Is your friend hung over? was he in a rush and forgot to comb his hair, is that listerine on his breath?
None of it matters.
Its a Morals Question. The fact that it’s there requires you to take some action.
Firefighters are expected to have a moral compass that points towards saint-like. We we’re recently voted most trustworthy profession. Eat that PD.
The rules say no showing up to work hungover/drunk. In interviews, YOU ALWAYS SIDE WITH THE RULES. It’s in caps so you’ll remember.
There is no grey area, there are no exceptions, even if they outrank you, even if they’re Jesus. They break the rules you confront them and ask them to rectify the situation themselves.
If they won’t inform their superior you will. Offer to get them help if they have a problem. Be the rat, anything else will cost you points.)
2. Answer them! With Feeling!
- Every Answer should have some sort of personal story in the beginning. Generic stuff about possessing courage and honor can be used after the story as supporting evidence or “filler” if you space out. Which you shouldn’t, because you practiced right?
- Always find ways to show the board that you already have done things that can make you a standout firefighter. Everyone has something, if its team related and your fresh from high school use athletic teams or extracurriculars.
- Narrow your answers down to 90 seconds talk time at MAX. The board doesn’t need every detail. just the best ones.
- Consider these answers bullets. Your Clint Eastwood carrying a ten-round revolver. Your job is to blow the Oral Board away. However, if you shoot all these bullets as soon as they ask “Tell us a little about yourself” your going to feel a little empty handed the rest of the gun fight.
- Practice saying and listening to yourself say the answers. Account for speeding up a bit after some practice. Aim for around a minute long answer
- Work specific information about the city into your answers. Don’t force it, “I Want to work for this city because it has a population of x and a life size replica of the Eiffel tower” find ways to drop some in to each answer if possible. It makes you look quite suave.
3. Learn Specifics about the Department / City
Basic Things to Have General Knowledge of For Specific Departments:
- Population, Square miles of territory covered
- Amount of Total calls ran and breakdown of calls
- Residential Vs Commercial Areas
- Unique Hazards I.e. Airports, bridges, stadiums, bodies of water, celebrations, weather hazards, subways, highways
- Basic layout of roads
- Number of stations, firefighters and chiefs
- The busiest station in the department
Finally, get someone to check your answers.
How do you know if you have good answers? Well, someone calls you and offers you a career in the fire department. That’s the biggest indicator that you smashed your oral board out of the park.
Chances are though, you probably want to know before you head into an interview and waste an opportunity at a city you love. Boards don’t tell you where you went wrong either. This is what causes people to get trapped in those vicious cycles of Written, CPAT, Interview, Out of the running. They never change because no one is telling them what they are doing wrong.
Most people turn to friends or relatives already in the Department for help. A mock oral board sometimes works out great, but chances are your going to run into these problems:
- Your friend/relative interviewed in the 90′s and has been in the service for years. They’re a bit out of touch. Before heading into a career interview at a large department I sat down to pick my Volunteer Chief’s brain. He also worked at a career department so I figured I was getting valuable information. For the question “What interests you most about the fire department?” He shot down my answers about excitement and helping people and actually recommended I mention the schedule. “Tell them about that grass business you have and how it allows you to do both. It shows them your already working and you don’t take days off. good judge of character.” While it may be a decent judge of character (Maybe?) it also tells them my motivation for joining this department is keeping my side job, placing it above the department. Thinking I was golden, I would tell every board I saw all about my business. Do you think they gave one single damn?
- Your mock board is full of yes men who don’t want to hurt your feelings, much like your mother and girlfriend. Think about it. How hard is it to tell one of your buddies they suck really bad at something they’ve been working hard at? That’s probably the synopsis of every 3rd “Friends” episode. Nobody likes being the bad guy. It’s a lot easier to to give you a big smile and thumbs up, then offer a shoulder to cry on when you don’t get the job.
- Your friend is an idiot. Hey, every recruit class has a guy hired last. People slip through the cracks all the time. The rest of the department finds out when they get on shift and nearly saw a guy’s arm off while walking up a ladder with a cranked chainsaw. They promptly get stamped “Dumbass” across the forehead and sent to an outlying station where hopefully they don’t kill anybody. To you on the outside though, he’s got the info you need to get hired by a department. The biggest joke is when you mention to people on your trip visit that your good friends with him and he’s been helping you out. You can bet the jokes being said after you leave are hilarious. You’re “Dumbass” Jr. This is another good reason it’s better to keep your mouth shut on visits than brag about this and that and who you know.
- You end up asking the guy who “knew somebody”. The mayor’s son. The Chief’s cousin. I’m not gonna sit here and lie to you about a perfect fire service where favoritism doesn’t exist. It shouldn’t. It’s a disservice to the community as a whole. It has regulations against it. People try to stamp it out, until it becomes convenient for them. That’s just human nature I suppose. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. And now your asking “Tommy Boy” for pointers on sales technique.
- Your applying for a different department and your whole station comes together for a mock board. Is your station a conglomerate of idiots, mayor’s sons and disillusioned old men? Probably not. But how long has it been since they interviewed themselves? Nobody has a perfect memory. Has your whole station had experience on oral boards before?