Advice from South Metro Fire Rescues' very own Company Officer Brian Netzel on 'What it takes' to become a Firefighter:
I will share with you some information on the hiring process and through some ride along's, you may find some really good advice and help!
Gaining a position as a Firefighter is not an easy task. However, if you are determined and stay with it and are flexible as to where you live and work you can enjoy a long fire service career. Below I will outline the basic process for testing for an entry level position as a firefighter with us (SMFRA), and it does mirror most other FD's around the Country. However, before you worry about testing you need to be qualified for the position:
- Meet minimum age either 18 or 21 district dependent
- Most Departments require you to be an Emergency Medical Technician - Basic prior to application/hire Colorado State or National Registry
- Pass Criminal background check
- Clean to minimal driving record
- Successful completion of High School or equivalent, many departments beginning to require some College, I've only heard of Associates for entry level, however, many have not adopted this yet
Get to know the department you are testing for
Call some fire departments in your area and schedule some ride-a-longs, go ride for a few hours and talk with the crews you are with. Ask them their advice. If you are a minor your parents will have to sign a waiver for you and some districts may not allow it, but, it never hurts to call and ask. If you do ride, here is some advice I would extend to you:
- Confirm the attire you should wear and wear it, nothing more nothing less (most FD's this is dark blue or black non-denim pants and a white collared shirt), and no jewelry, remove piercings or cover them with a band-aid.
- Show up on time
- Be polite and courteous to the entire crew, these men and women are here for 48 hours, they are allowing you as a guest in their home to ride and observe, many people do not understand our firehouses are not 9-5 office cubicles. Showing this respect will go far for you
- Not required, but, it does not hurt to show up with some edible treats to share with the crew. It shows your gratitude for their time to you, be conscious to the fact that many firehouses are turning into health houses, keep that in mind when selecting food to share.
- Ask questions, this is your chance to find out if this is the career for you
- Don't judge the fire service off of one or two crews that you visit with
- Unless invited to stay past, be sure to say goodbye and dismiss yourself at the scheduled time of the end of your ride-a-long
Anytime you are in contact with someone in the fire service that person could very well be sitting in on your hiring interview, therefore, always conduct yourself in a profession and respectful manner. Once you have met all the requirements to apply for the job the testing process goes as follows:
Get to know a little about the district you are testing for
Research- the district(s) you intend to test for, go to their headquarters request basic demographic information and inquire about doing a ride along or 2. The information they can provide you at HQ is good knowledge to have, ie. Number of stations, # of personnel, number of runs and type per year, etc… The ride along will give you better insight to the general attitude or culture of that particular FD, don’t read too much into this, it could be a bad day for that crew; but you can sort through that by asking questions. I would highly recommend a FD that has respect for their leadership and good working relations throughout all ranks. Rides should be scheduled prior to hiring times as we are swamped with literally 100’s of hopeful candidates during the hiring process, this results in irritated crews not feeling too compelled to help out these procrastinators. Planning well in advance will be appreciated by those who help you and give you plenty of time to get everything you will need to do or know done well in advance. I would suggest testing with as many departments as you can even in locations you don’t plan or want to work, the typical candidate test for 3-5 years with numerous departments before getting hired; every test you take is more testing experience under your belt.
Typical Testing Process
Each one of the following steps in the hiring process is typically a pass/fail step with single elimination, in other words if you fail you don’t go any further in the process. Typically a pass is just that, there is no ranking of candidates; if you meet the minimum standard you meet the minimum standard, if you have extra certifications or training you are still documented as meeting minimum requirements. Keep in mind that during the hiring process, departments are not allowed to test entry level positions on any trade specific learned skills, or knowledge. In other words as an entry level candidate you should not expect to see fire science questions on a written exam, or be asked to perform vertical ventilation during a practical or physical test.
Application- Fill it out completely, 100%, all the way if you don’t have something to say put N/A if you are required to put something, put in, even if you are worried it will hurt your chances of hire; you don’t want it to re-surface later (it will). Fill it out legibly and include any and all certifications or paperwork required. My personal opinion, don’t add a bunch of certificates or papers, if you want add them to your resume and see if you are allowed to submit that with your application. Another of my personal opinions, fill it out yourself, it is an embarrassing moment when you say “I don’t know why my mom filled it out that way”. Besides, mom won’t be here to clean toilets, dishes or run the laundry if you get hired, I only mention these because I have actually seen it! Be professional and courteous when interfacing with any and all department personnel weather on the phone or in person. You never know who will have access to adding notes to your hiring packet!
Written Test- Most entry level firefighter written exams are very similar, basic high school level reading, writing, listening, mechanics, etc… Show up early and ready, listen to the directions and follow them. Most are typical multiple choice broken into sections.
Fire Team Test- This is sometimes in addition to or acts as the written test for entry level for some fire departments.
Physical Agility testing or CPAT- I believe most departments have gone to the “CPAT” but some still have their own testing. Once again this is a pass fail and if you take the CPAT at a certified location such as here at South Metro you can purchase a certificate good for 1 year at most other FD’s that use the CPAT for their Physical Testing requirement, make sure to check with individual departments for this though. CPAT is a fair and accurate representation to typical fire ground physical activities.
Oral Boards- This is really your only opportunity to stand out and not just pass or fail; this is the place to “sell” yourself. Oral Boards and there structure can vary greatly dependant on the city or district. Denver for example the Panel or Board consists of other civil service employees, citizens, etc… rarely actual FD personnel. Their questions are very direct and do not require much if any follow up or clarification, there is little interaction with the board; they won’t ask you to expand or clarify, very rigid and systematic. Some smaller districts it’s just an interview with the Chief or Human Resources. Here at SMFRA our Board usually consists of HR director, a Battalion Chief, Company Officer, Paramedic and 1 or 2 firefighters or other ranks. Our Oral Board can last 30 minutes to an hour and the questions open up a dialogue with the Board having the authority to expand, or deviate from the base question. It is honestly an opportunity for us to try and get to know each candidate and see if they line up with our values and mission; some people just don’t belong in the service, we try to avoid hiring these people.
You should prepare for oral boards by having a really detailed oral resume and be able to provide examples of work place situations, both positive and negative and how you were involved and how you handled them, what you learned, etc… Remember by Oral Boards the pool has been narrowed and competition is great for SMFRA it is usually 100-200 candidates for 10-20 positions. You really need to WOW the panel in order to leave a stand out impression.
Post Oral Board Steps-
Typically a few more candidates than being hired are given preliminary job offers and move on to the next phase, inevitably 20%-30% of the candidates will not pass one of the following steps hence the extra people moving on:
I hope this information helps you in your career choice, please make sure you talk with multiple people and get a multitude of viewpoints. Feel free to follow up with any further questions and good luck to you.