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Firefighter Applicants - Frequently Asked Questions

Below are some commonly asked questions  that fire applicants have about the testing process.  The top entry-level  authors in the country (Capt Bob Smith, Steve Prziborowski, & Brent Collins  from Don McNea Fire School) have offered their insight to keep you motivated  through every step in the hiring process.  Click on any of the links below  to find out what advice our entry level experts have for you to give you that  ultimate edge over your competition.

Good luck !!!!




    21. What is in the heart of a firefighter?

    What is at the heart of a firefighter? What sets the firefighter apart from all others? And what brings us together this evening?

    A firefighter's heart is the heart of compassion. It is a heart of giving. But Peace Corps workers are compassionate and giving.

    It is a heart that wants to save lives. But surgeons do, too.

    It is a heart with a yearning to produce meaningful acts on behalf of society. And yet, social workers want this, too.

    The firefighter's heart fills itself with raw courage at the very moment when courage is most needed, a heart that will make the ultimate sacrifice to do the right thing. But so, too, is it with our bravest soldiers.

    It is a heart that accepts the burden of an entire community in its worst moments, a heart that says, Yes, I will take your burden on my shoulders-I will, in all humility, be your hero. But heroes come from the unlikeliest of places, sometimes from outside the fire service.

    The firefighter's heart is willing to place on the body incredible physical demands, but surely no more so than an Olympic athlete.

    So what is it? What makes the firefighter heart different?

    It's hard to crystallize a metaphor that approximates true "firefighter-ness" in the barest terms, but I think maybe we know what it is deep down, and that is why we share these moments this evening, not just to congratulate the new crop of leaders in the fire service - you - but to share, in a show of solidarity, what really binds us together, what links the souls of firefighters gone before us with the firefighters present and firefighters yet to come.

    This is not some editor's exercise in words. This is not Fire Philosophy 101. This is about the center.

    We must find the center, all of us. In this self-discovery, we find the energy for future actions of greatness. And it is in our future actions, true to the center of this business, that we do the greatest honor to the brave people of the fire service who sacrificed their lives doing what you are about to do. We must honor them through our own daily actions. To do otherwise would be to diminish the greatest of traditions, gained from the blood, sweat, and tears of your predecessors.

    You respond to all types of emergencies. You are Joe Citizen's 24-hour-a-day, seven-days-a-week emergency store. Your sirens will wail in the day and in the night. You are the ever-present community security blanket.

    But even beyond this, what sets you at the highest level of giving and self-sacrifice and courage and duty and lifesaving is the fact that you perform your duty in the most uncontrolled environments known to man, where lives, including your own, are in the balance and time is of the essence. What sets you beyond law enforcement and the military and the social worker in this regard is the simple fact that you can't talk down, or negotiate with, or smother with kindness, a fire. You are dealing with an enemy that cannot reason and has no conscience. You are dealing with an enemy that only you and no other group-no other group-can deal with.

    And the public expects it of you. The citizens expect you to control the uncontrollable, this terrible thing that has no reason, no soul, no conscience. They are counting on you--and no one else--in their darkest hours. This is the sacred trust. This is from where your essence springs.

    We are all just passing through this life. We are hearts and minds on a huge and unfathomable continuum. How will you leave this for future generations? In this life, as you graduate today, you become caretakers of the sacred trust. And that is immensely important to the world.

    By becoming a firefighter, you have assumed your place as a caretaker of the noblest of traditions. You are the new caretakers.

    This unspoken understanding transcends all geographic and natural boundaries. It transcends all personal differences. It is our uniting force. It is what makes a firefighter call another "brother" or "sister" and why those words mean something different-something more-when spoken from firefighter to firefighter than is the case with anybody else in society.

    It is what makes duty, honor, and self-sacrifice not the esoteric concepts of an idealized yesterday but, rather, an unchangeable way of life, today.

    And so we honor you, the graduates, this evening, not just because you passed a curriculum but because it is now your honor and privilege and responsibility to live out the sacred trust and, in doing so, do your part to preserve and move forward the great fire service.

    But it is not easy. Nothing good ever is. To be a caretaker is a great responsibility. You can't take a break from it. You can't go on vacation from it. Tonight, you enter the ranks of a service that will define you, and you it. Now it is part of you-forever. How will you accept the challenge that lies ahead? How will you fulfill your role as caretaker of the sacred trust?

    Yes, tonight formalizes your acceptance of the responsibilities that come with being a caretaker. Now you are responsible for doing everything humanly possible to see to it that, while exercising your sworn duty, not only you come home after shift but so, too, your brothers and sisters come home with you.

    You have accepted the responsibility to be the best firefighter you can be. Anything less is a betrayal of yourself and, more importantly, this service. This is not a job. It is a calling. Act like it.

    You have accepted the responsibility of making your new organization better because you're in it. That requires character. Character matters. Virtue matters. Vows matter. Honor and integrity matter. It comes with the territory, comes with being a caretaker of the trust.

    But your responsibility is also a great gift. You have the future in your hands. You have in your hands the ability to strengthen the future of the greatest and noblest profession in the world. A great gift.

    So I ask you, as you are here to celebrate your new beginning, never be deterred in your commitment to the sacred trust. There will be forces outside and even inside the fire service working against you. Be guided by what is right. Be guided by what it means to live the sacred trust.

    Be a leader. Leadership is not a function of gold horns or silver bars. It is not won by promotion, but by development of character. Lead, but when you follow, follow in the footsteps of those who carry the torch of the sacred trust.

    Train as if your life depends on it, because it does. Train for fire, your greatest enemy. Talk fire. Think fire. Live fire. Never become complacent, because there is not such thing as a routine incident until you're back in the firehouse, safe.

    Become a thinking firefighter, remembering that safety is not a word, not a board or a tag or an OSHA regulation or an NFPA standard or a good intention-safety is a learned behavior, an action that springs from thinking firefighters who hold "the basics" close to them at all times.

    Let us learn the lessons of those who have gone before us. They speak to us from beyond. And after we bow our heads for the 100 firefighters who die each year in the line of duty, after our prayers, let us come up swinging, aggressive in our pursuit of avenues that will support must be the first order of business in this fire service: to increase response effectiveness and make us operationally safer on the fireground. It is incumbent upon us to do so, as caretakers of the trust.

    Having assumed the responsibility of caretaker, make it count. You can do no more, but you must do no less.

    As an adopted son of the fire service, as a journalist fortunate enough to have been given the opportunity to study this business from the inside, I must tell you how proud and privileged I am to be associated with you, and how much I admire you. The heart of a true firefighter is the heart of greatness. A heart of greatness pumps within you, else you would not be here tonight, accepting your role as caretakers.

    Welcome to the greatest service on earth. I welcome you, the new caretakers of the sacred trust. I wish you great success and happiness. God bless, stay low, and be safe.

    Thank you.

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    22. What's it like around the station as a rookie firefighter?

    Life around the station as a rookie

    My typical day as a rookie starts off at 4:30 am waking up before the sun comes out. I rehearse my drill for the day prior to me leaving for work.   I arrive at the gate of my station at 5:10 Am and open the gate, by 5:15 I enter the station and put up the 1st pot of coffee and proceed to the bathroom to change over into uniform, from there I go back to the kitchen put up the 2nd pot of coffee and proceed to the apparatus floor to get my PPE in line, from there I go to the front office where I check the journal to see yesterdays activities as well as check the "new material" folder and the roster for the day.  Now its about 5:35 and I go put up the flag and gather the newspaper and return to the kitchen and spread out the newspaper in sections on the table.  I then empty the dishes from the washer and proceed back to the apparatus floor to check inventory on all 4 apparatus (truck/engine/pump/RA).  Now it's around 6:15 and Members on my shift are arriving as well as members of the off going shift are waking up.  I make it a point to say good morning to every member on coming and off going.  Now its around 6:25 and I go grab the other rookie so we can practice throwing every single ladder as well as donning our SCBA for time.  Periodically between ladders I will go back into the kitchen to put up more pots of coffee.  7:15 a.m. I practice my daily drill with one of the senior firemen.  7:45 a.m. I proceed to the kitchen to prepare for lineup which entails cleaning up the mess that the senior firemen made from making breakfast.  8:00 a.m. lineup in the kitchen with all members of my shift to go over the itinerary for the day and discuss new material.  8:30 proceed to start housework; I always make it a point to be the first one in the bathrooms with my scrubber/bleach-water mix/comet etc.  TIP: WHEN CLEANING THE TOILETS INSTEAD OF FLUSHING THE SOAPY WATER DOWN THE TOILET ONCE THEY'RE CLEAN, LEAVE THE SOAPY WATER IN THE BOWL, IT WILL SHOW THE MEMBERS OF YOUR CREW THAT YOU DID THE TOILETS.  9:30 a.m. members of my crew begin their daily exercise regiment, I on the other hand am throwing ladders, doing daily/weekly/monthly checks of our equipment or practicing for my drill.  10:30 a.m. off to the store to gather materials for lunch/dinner.  While at the store I will be throwing ladder, giving mini drills on equipment, walking the roof, or something practical.  11:30 a.m. help setup for lunch.  12:00 p.m. lunch time, I am always the last to gather my plate unless ordered otherwise and I usually take the smallest portion.  Even though I'm the last to sit down and eat, I'm always the 1st to get up and get in the suds.  Do I eat so fast that I don't even taste the food most of the time, answer is probably.  I do dishes till the cook for the day calls for a "game for dishes" which entails some card or dice game where I will intentionally lose because at the end of the game do you think its good to see the rookie at the table while his captains are in the suds…HELL NO….After lunch I will help the A/O or other senior firefighters with projects that need to be completed around the station/apparatus.  Around 2 p.m. I will give my drill in front of all 12 members of my station at once (this is the most nerve wracking part).  Around 3 p.m. I will pull out the tool that I will have to give a drill on next shift and start playing around with it.  4:30 p.m. I will clean up the kitchen and help the cook if he needs it to prepare the meal for the night.  6:00 p.m. same routine as lunch, I'm the last to get my portion of food and the first to get done and then automatic in the suds.  7:00 p.m. I will help the A/O wipe down the truck and then help the both engineers wipe down both engines.  8:00 p.m. I will either pull out another tool to learn, throw some ladders, read the volumes, or prepare for my next shifts drill. 10:00 do a final cleanup of the station picking up any residual trash, doing the dishes again, inventory of the truck.  1:00 a.m. – 1:30 a.m. I finally go to sleep when the last member of my crew has gone to sleep.  5:30 a.m. the next morning I am up putting up the coffee, cleaning up, throwing ladders with the oncoming shift rookie.  8:00 a.m. I finally leave the station.

    This is just a "rough base" of what to expect as a rookie around the station.  Remember this daily routine doesn't include all of the calls you run and the questions/tasks you are expected to know or perform when asked to about SOP's or TOOL knowledge.

    Oh yeah in addition the "GAMES" that the senior firefighters like to play with the rookie at whatever time of the day/night they please.  

    More advice


    What you do when you first start out will set your reputation and follow you throughout your career. If you don't start out on the right foot, they will show you the door. The crew already knows more about you before you show up than you think.

    Use these standards during station visits, your interview process, and as a new rookie to demonstrate you already know what to do when hired:

    You're a snotty nose rookie. Keep your mouth shut. Be cordial, friendly and humble. You have no time or opinion until you earn it. You can't force it. That will come with a lot of calls and a few fires.

    Cell phones are causing problems for candidates and rookies. I can't believe the stories I'm hearing. Candidates are carrying their cell phones and pagers to written tests. A candidate was in a department academy and his cell phone starts to ring. He told the training officer, can you hold on a minute, I have a call. Yeah, right. The training officer told the class the next time he hears a cell phone go off, they were going to play who can throw the cell phone the furthest.

    On an emergency call, the BC was trying to raise dispatch without success on the radio. The rookie took his cell phone, speed dialed dispatch and handed his cell phone to the BC. Cute? Smart? Innovative? That's not the reception he received.

    Rookies are carrying their cell phones and pagers on duty. Their phone rings, they answer it and go right into cell yell with their friends and relatives. Wives, girl friends and dysfunctional others call all day long with important stuff and to do pillow talk.

    Cell phones are ringing in locker rooms. Some try to be cool by putting their cell phones and pagers on vibrate or stun. Even though they might not answer them when they go off, they still pick them up to check the caller ID or the text message. Then when they think no one is looking, they slip off and return the call. THIS IS DUMB! These are not part of your emergency issue.

    This will not get you off on the right foot. Big clue here. Leave the electronic leashes off and in your vehicle, along with your piercings, until a time where all your duties are complete. No matter what you might think and how friendly everyone seems to be, you are being watched! It could hurt you big time.  If you have an emergency situation, ask your officer if you can carry your phone because you are expecting an emergency call.

    Call your new captain before your first shift and ask if he wants you to bring anything in. Bring a peace offering of donuts and desert your first day. Homemade is best. Arrive early and ask the off-going firefighter what you should know at that station. Your new captain should meet with you to outline his expectations. If not, ask him.

    Unless you're told differently, put up and don't forget to take down the flag. If the phone or the doorbell rings, make sure you're the first one running to answer it. There will be certain duties on each day of the week. Tuesday could be laundry day, Saturday yards. Keep track. Stay busy around the station. Always be in a clean proper uniform. Always be ready to get on the rig and respond.

    Check out the gear on the rig each morning. Make sure the O2 gauge and the reserve bottle shows enough to handle a long EMS call.

    Firefighters usually have "their" place to sit at the table and in front of the TV. Don't hog the newspaper. The off-going shift has the first crack at the newspaper. You probably have probation tests.

    Don't park yourself in front of the TV; you have a test coming up. Stay busy. No matter what the atmosphere, you're being watched.

    Although you might be a good cook, don't volunteer to cook until asked or rotated in. Make sure your meals are on time. The old adage "Keep them waiting long enough and they will eat anything" doesn't apply here. Be the last one to serve your plate. Don't load up your plate the first time around. Wait to go for seconds.

    Always have your hands in the sink doing the dishes after a meal. Be moving out with the garbage and mopping the kitchen floor after each meal.  Learn how to help the officer complete response reports.

    Don't tell jokes until you're accepted.

    Don't gossip.

    Don't play "your" music on the radio. Don't be a stupid generation X'er or Y'er and always ask why when told to do something. Help others with their assignments when you finish yours.

    Ask how you're doing. Volunteer for assignments. Keep track of these to present at your evaluations.  Don't start pulling hose and other equipment at a scene until the captain tells you.

    Always get off the rig before it backs up. Stand to the rear side to guide the rig. Never turn your back on the backing up rig.

    It's not uncommon to move to one or more stations during your probation. At your new station, don't act like you already have time. Unfortunately, you have to start all over again as the new rookie.

    You will have an elated feeling rolling out on your first calls. There is nothing like it. It could last your whole career. Enjoy and savor it. You earned it. You're the last of America's Heroes.

    I miss it.

    Our thanks go out to Capt Bob Smith for his article and insight.  For more information on his book, Becoming a Firefighter:  The Complete Guide to Your Badge, and his entry level DVD/CD oral interview program that has helped thousands of individuals to get the job of their dreams  (included in the Ultimate Firefighter Examination Prep Package), go to our entry level fireman test products page or site map.  Good luck!!

    Click here for Entry Level Products Page
    Click here to review the Ultimate Firefighter Exam Package

    23. New Rookies tips for success

    Just some ideas / thoughts to help a probationary firefighter succeed once they get accepted into the recruit academy:

    1.  Always have at least one pen on you at all times. You can't go wrong getting on of the pens and clipping it to your t-shirt collar. You'll need a pen for writing down information on calls and for taking notes. Nothing more embarrassing than having to ask someone to borrow a pen.

    2.  Always have a watch with a second hand and one that glows in the dark. Besides needing it for taking vital signs once you're on the line, it is not a nice-to-have, but a need-to-have. You'll never know when you will need it, but if you don't have one, it is pretty embarrassing having to tell the person asking you to time something or what time is it, "I don't have a watch." Go to Costco (or a similar store) and buy a heavy duty, waterproof watch. I still have the same one that I bought in my academy 10 years ago, it works great.

    3.  Don't rely on your PERS (or other similar government retirement plan) to cover your retirement costs. As we are seeing now, our governor is attempting to alter/modify/delete our current plan. What we see today may not be the same when it comes time to retire. Continue to save, save, save for that rainy day.

    4.  Going with number 3 above, max out your deferred compensation plan from the first day you get hired. Once again, your government pension that you are promised upon retirement (which can be 90 to 100% of your last year's salary, depending on where you work), will look great the first five or so years after retirement, but it will not take long for that retirement paycheck to not look so good because of inflation, medical costs, and other related costs you will incur as you get older. Maxing out your deferred comp from day one is the smartest idea because you get used to not seeing the money. Trying to do it after you've been accustomed to a certain salary and way of life is almost impossible. Plus, understanding about how money and interest compounds/multiplies will  make you want to do so as early as possible in your career.

    I hear the same old complaints from our probies "I can't afford to put any money in deferred comp, I'll get to it later." Yeah right, you will. Denial is not a river in Egypt......

    5.  Be nice to EVERY ONE you meet, whether they are in uniform or not. You never know who they might be and it is just the right thing to do.

    6.  Start learning the names and positions/assignments of all of the chiefs, all of the officers, and all of the firefighters that work in your new department. Why? Because it is the right thing to do and because you'll need to know them at some point anyway, why not start now? The sooner you start, the easier it will be, especially in larger departments. If you get hired by, say LAFD, with over 3,000 members, good luck. Do the best you can. Also start learning the names of the administrative personnel (secretaries, etc.) that you come in contact with during training, the hiring process, etc. They will assist you at some point in your career, start learning who they are, what they do, and how they can help you.

    7.  A good way to do number 6 above is to get a hold of a fire department yearbook (if that department has produced one) or some other document with pictures on it.

    8.  If you meet someone new for the first time (and there will be a lot of first times - you'll feel like an Alzheimer's patient for a while), take the time to extend your hand, shake their hand, and say something to the effect of "hello, my name is John Smith, I am one of the new probationary firefighters (or whatever your dept. calls you), I am pleased to meet you." Hopefully they will provide their name, if they don't, try to tactfully ask that question and then throw in something to the effect of "where do you work and what is your assignment." Some people might call that kissing butt, I think it is just common courtesy. Realize every department is different and this may not be accepted practice in some departments.

    9.  Realize that you will not have much (if any) available sick or vacation time. That said, try to keep the hobbies to a minimum that might injure you (skiing, motorcycling, snowboarding, etc.). If you don't have the time to use as sick leave, there is no requirement they have to keep your job.  Wait the 12 to 18 months for probation to finish if you do something that has a high risk of injury.

    Also, try not to plan any big trips. You won't have much vacation and some departments don't even allow trades or minimize trades for probies. In some departments, it is frowned upon for probies to take trades. Know your department's culture.

    10.  Learn as much as you can about your new department. Besides learning the names and ranks of personnel, learn about the history and about every possible thing you can. This information can be found out primarily just by showing interest and talking with the firefighters you work with. Most will love to talk about the history with you. Other good sources include department history books, yearbooks, the internet, a fire dept. museum (if they have one), each fire station itself, etc.

    It seems to me that many probies don't seem to care about the history (or at least they don't seem aggressive in learning about the history) of a dept. these days. History is there for a reason - we can learn from history and it also helps you talk with and understand people since history is contained every day in our conversations in some form or fashion.

    11.  If it is appropriate in your dept., try to attend EVERY department function. These can include: Holiday parties, union meetings, barbeques, recognition dinners, retirement dinners, etc. This is a great way to meet more of the personnel you have not yet met, to meet some of the retirees, to learn more about how the department operates, and to just be more involved to your department.

    12.  When appropriate, get involved. Many departments don't allow (or like) probies to get involved on committees, etc., but that doesn't mean you can't start learning about the different committees so you can start planting the seeds for when you get off probation. We are all looking for our members to get involved in some form or fashion.

    13.  Always have a full set of spare street clothes in your car, as well as numerous pieces of dept. clothing. When I got hired, I purchased 10 t-shirts and 2 to 3 each of sweatshirts, sweat pants, sweat shorts, etc. You're going to get stinky and dirty, and you'll want a clean change of clothes since you might not be able to launder your clothes every night after the academy.

    14.  While you're driving to the academy each day, and going to lunch with your classmates (assuming your dept. allows that), don't drive with your blinders on. Start learning the streets, the target hazards, etc. What a great way to start learning your way around town. On that note, try to spend your money (food, gas, snacks, etc.) in the dept.'s jurisdiction. Besides having the money go back to the city (that you'll indirectly benefit from in the long run), you'll get to learn the areas. This will come in handy.

    15.  On the same lines of number 14, buy a street map of your new dept.'s jurisdictional boundaries. Mark each fire station on the map and include the assigned apparatus. What a great way to learn where each fire station is and what units are assigned to each station. This will be a necessity. The last thing you want to do is get your station assignment and say "can you tell me how to get there?" That doesn't make you look to good.

    Also, take the time to highlight each main target hazard (schools, hospitals, shopping centers, large companies, major transit centers, city buildings, etc.). Besides having to respond to them on calls, you'll probably be tested on them as well.

    Additionally, highlight the primary streets so you can start memorizing them. Then do the secondary streets, etc.

    Keep this map with you at all times and then with you when you work at the stations to study.  

    16.  Learn the address of each station (if you're hired by LAFD, good luck). This will teach you basic address schemes (such as odd numbers are on the north and east side of the street and even numbers are on the south and the west side of the street) of the city and will start you learning your streets (which most departments require and test you on). Once you learn the street name, learn the cross street as well. And then which way the numbers progress on the street.

    Remember that it is tough to learn everything all at once. However, if you start small, at the time you get hired, and then think of it as "building blocks," you'll be surprised at how much you will learn and retain.

    17.  Always have spare money with you in case you forget your wallet. Try to keep a bunch of coins in your car, and also some small bills (in case you forget your wallet and need food, bridge toll, etc.). Go a step further and put some coins and money in a water tight container and carry it on your turnouts. This will be good once you get on line and are coming back from a 5 am run and you have just had your first trash fire and the captain tells you, "oh, your first trash fire? Perfect, you can buy us donuts." Instead of saying "can I borrow some money, my wallet is at the station?" You can say, no problem, I have money in my turnouts.

    18.  If you have extra uniforms, keep at least one shirt/pants in your vehicle in a secure space. Chances are you'll get the one you're wearing dirty at some point and need a clean set. Don't keep them visible because some thief would love to get their hands on it....

    19.  Always have a toiletries kit in your vehicle. I remember one probie asking me (when he was working at the station), "Cap, can I borrow your deodorant since I forgot mine?" I prefer the roll on deodorant and what do you think my answer was?  NO!!! That's almost as bad as asking to borrow a toothbrush or towels. Oof.

    20.  Last, but not least (at least for now), if you are issued a probie binder to get things signed off in, make copies of it on a regular basis. One of our probies lost (actually his car was broken into and they took the book and some turnouts) his book a couple of years ago - the one that had almost 18 months of probie sign-offs completed. He did not have a copy in a secure location. He was dancing around for a while and quite nervous until he was told it was ok. This could have easily gone against him.

    Hope that helps you be successful. I have plenty more ideas and I'll post them here as I get the time.

    Steve Prziborowski, Captain

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    24. Station Visits - Is It Necessary?


    I said that I would always visit a station when I heard a story of a guy who entered an interview and was ask did you visit any of our stations and get the information packet that admin made up? This sounded like a sure fire way to NOT be successful. But after testing a lot it becomes a serious pain in the butt.

    I know I will catch a lot of flack for saying that. But think about it, if you take all the tests you can because you really want the job, you could potentially have to visit like 3 or 4 different departments in a month. And it is the same routine over time. Call admin for a stations #, then call the station and explain you would like to visit to ask questions on the dept/personnel/training/equipment.

    And, you must not show up empty handed (unwritten rule). At my dept last time we tested we had people showing up left and right. Some brought stuff, some didn't. It really did not seem to bother anyone. This one guy in particular who sat down with us and really gave me a good feeling did not get hired. I doubt the oral board even had a clue that he visited the station and all the information he gathered did not benefit him because I saw the interview questions. So my question is this. Are we just like the Mayor running for office and trying to show our faces around and campaign??? What about the buddy system when visiting stations?? Is this looked upon poorly?? Thanks in advance.

    Captain Bob's Reply:

    Good Points

    Yea, it's not a day at the beach. But, it can be used in part of your answer on what you have done to prepare for the position; that you have been by some of the stations and what you observed; enthusiasm, skills, dedication, willingness to be of service to those trying to become firefighters.

    You can also learn something unique about the department that few if any of the other candidates can say in their oral i.e. did you know that San Jose has dry drum hydrants?

    More than one candidate was stumped in their oral when they were asked, "Did you get by any of our stations and pick up the oral board packet?"

    Our thanks go out to Capt Bob Smith for his article and insight.  For more information on his book, Becoming a Firefighter:  The Complete Guide to Your Badge, and his entry level DVD/CD oral interview program that has helped thousands of individuals to get the job of their dreams  (included in the Ultimate Firefighter Examination Prep Package), go to our entry level fireman test products page or site map.  Good luck!!

    25. Lateral

    The biggest problem I've seen on oral boards with seasoned veterans taking entry level or lateral tests is they can't place themselves in the position they are applying for; that of being a snotty nose rookie. They try to hammer the oral board with their credentials thinking the board will just hand them the job. Their oral board's skills are rusty and antiquated. It's hard for them to remember how it was to be a rookie.

    This is a delicate balance here. Leave your time and rank in your locker. You must be humble, place yourself in the rookie position and build a natural bridge to present your education, experience and integrity to the oral board panel. Without this bridge, you're dead meat. This is not easy for many seasoned candidates. An attitude adjustment is needed. Attitude is a small thing that can make the big difference. Remember the position you're applying.

    The seasoned veteran candidate can roar past any of the other candidates if his attitude and game plan is in place.

    I think this says it all:

    It was five years ago that I first visited   It was how I found and landed my first job at a small career department, and served for four and a half years.  The entire time I wanted to make the lateral move to my hometown dept.--a larger city, more opportunities, Paramedic and tech. rescue opportunities...But I was a bone head.  I thought because I was already on the job elsewhere, I could waltz through the process, and to some extent I did--all the way to the Chief's interview twice, but never got the call.  Laterals, my advice to you is this: we are our own worst think you are a good judge of your interview skills, trust me you're not. Don't be a bonehead like me and go through the process twice before getting help from professionals like Captain Rob and Captain Bob at   Think this is some baloney sell-out advertisement?  Well, all I can say is after five years of trying, my recruit academy starts in two weeks.  You be the judge.

    Our thanks go out to Capt Bob Smith for his article and insight.  For more information on his book, Becoming a Firefighter:  The Complete Guide to Your Badge , and his entry level DVD/CD oral interview program that has helped thousands of individuals to get the job of their dreams  (included in the Ultimate Firefighter Examination Prep Package), go to our entry level fireman test products page or site map.  Good luck!!

    Click here for Entry Level Products Page
    Click here to review the Ultimate Firefighter Exam Package

    26. What if you don't Pass the Medical?

    Pre-employment medical examinations must comply with the Federal Americans with Disabilities Act and in California with the California Fair Employment Act Section 7294.0(d) of title 2 of the California Code of Regulations states:

     (2) Where the results of such medical examination would result in disqualification, an applicant or employee may submit independent medical opinions for consideration before a final determination on disqualification is made.

    What this states is that if you have not passed a medical or psychological test that was part of a medical, you should be given the chance to obtain a second opinion. Cities and agencies might not be aware of this law. Most people are unaware that they can appeal the decision.

    Candidates will say they don't want to pursue this option because it might ruin any chance that this city might call them back in the future, or will cause problems applying to other agencies. Although the way to law is written, you can qualify for a list on an agency over and over again, UNDERSTAND that if you are eliminated from the process because of a medical or psychological test this agency will NEVER consider you again! The time to act is now! And, there are no black lists out there of those candidates who try to get a position that is rightfully theirs.

    If you take advantage of the law and have a qualified attorney represent you in obtaining a favorable second medical or psychological opinion you could be reinstated. Do not attempt this without an attorney. Attorney Claudia Baldwin 510-536-3500 has helped several candidates who have had problems in this area.

    If you are trying to get a second opinion on a medical, get a recognized expert in the field you are contesting. When my Son Rob was taking his medical, the blood work turned up some questionable numbers. We obtain an appointment with the leading blood specialist in the San Francisco area. He determined that the numbers were caused by a recent flu episode. He wrote a letter that cleared up the issue and Rob went on to get his badge.

    This is how this process can work. A psychologist just re-evaluated a candidate for an agency that did not pass his first psychological test. This doctor found him suitable for the position.

    If you were conditionally offered the position on passing the medical and your second opinion fulfills that requirement then you are entitled to the job. Not just to be put back on the list. They have to give you your badge! Several of our candidates have done just that.

    The defense rests!

    Getting the job of your dreams is like winning the lottery!

    Our thanks go out to Capt Bob Smith for his article and insight.  For more information on his book, Becoming a Firefighter:  The Complete Guide to Your Badge, and his entry level DVD/CD oral interview program that has helped thousands of individuals to get the job of their dreams  (included in the Ultimate Firefighter Examination Prep Package), go to our entry level fireman test products page or site map.  Good luck!!

    Click here for Entry Level Products Page
    Click here to review the Ultimate Firefighter Exam Package

    27. Pre-Existing Problems

    If you have a pre-existing medical problem or a serious issue in your background, do yourself a favor and find out early if it will interfere with getting a firefighter job.

    All to often I receive calls asking "What do I do now?" These candidates have spent time and money gaining education, experience and put their life's on hold trying to get this job; when they have an pre-existing medical problem or traceable background problem that would keep them badge less.

    Situations like not just one but two DUI's. Knee surgery with scars. Back surgery that would show in an X-ray (yes, they are going to X-ray your back) and/or be part of your records with your doctor and insurance company.

    Take the poison early. If you have the slightest concern for a medical problem, have the leading expert in this field of medicine (no, not your family doctor) evaluate your condition. If they feel you're fit for duty, have them give you a letter.

    If you have a DUI, an arrest or other black mark on your record, see if it can be expunged (Sealed). For other potential problems in your background, have a brief reasonable explanation of the situation.

    You don't want to be like a candidate who called last week who had a pre-existing medical problem. They called him Friday for a medical Tuesday. Monday was a holiday. He had kept his head in the sand in denial when he knew the medical call was the next step. He didn't have many options prior to his medical.

    The time to find out is now; before you're going for all the marbles.

    Author: futureff
    Subject: re: expungement

    Capt. Bob is right. I had a DUI, had it expunged and am going through backgrounds right now. My background
    packets states list all convictions, however, do not include convictions which have been expunged. So it pays to do the leg work and clean up your history. Good luck to you all.

    P.S. When records are expunged, they are not sealed. The only way one can have his/her conviction(s) sealed is if the conviction(s) happened when that person was under the age of 18 when the conviction occurred. Even when the conviction is expunged, you still have to disclose the conviction; however, you need not disclose it if the application/form/packet specifically states expunged convictions need not be listed. Trust me, I have done a lot of research on this issue.

    Our thanks go out to Capt Bob Smith for his article and insight.  For more information on his book, Becoming a Firefighter:  The Complete Guide to Your Badge, and his entry level DVD/CD oral interview program that has helped thousands of individuals to get the job of their dreams  (included in the Ultimate Firefighter Examination Prep Package), go to our entry level fireman test products page or site map.  Good luck!!

    Click here for Entry Level Products Page
    Click here to review the Ultimate Firefighter Exam Package

    28. Recommendation Letters

    Question: Will it help to present letters of recommendations from prominent people, such as a former police chief or my Priest or other firemen in the area?  Will it carry any weight at all?

    Reply:  On most oral boards, the raters are from other departments.  It is my experience that although the raters might thumb through and glance at any attached documents they seldom if ever read them.  And come on, if you're going to attach a letter of recommendation, its not going to say anything bad but only glowing words about you. Save a tree, the raters will not read these volumes. Don't send us on a treasure hunt to find your great stuff.

    I'm a one-page resume guy for entry level without a cover letter, not in a binder or folder. Do not give us a book. We will not read it. Write it believing the raters won't go past the first page. You can put any supporting details, documents, certificates and if it will help you sleep better and letters of recommendation following the first page. Keep it simple.

    Question: If you are going to attach any letters of recommendation following the first page how many is appropriate.  I am thinking maybe two.  I realize that there is a very good chance they won't read it but wouldn't it still look just a little better to have a couple of them?

    Reply:  How about none!  Again, I'm a one page stand alone resume guy.  Don't give me a book.  And, if you have already listed your education, experience and certs on your application and resume, why do you need to attached them; unless they were requested or you're going to a chiefs interview where there is more time with each candidate.

    Many entry level and promotional candidates have told me they were complemented on having just one, as in one page only, resume.

    As you know everyone becomes an expert on these issues. They will fill you head with all these crazy ideas and stuff. And because "They Said" (I've been trying to find "they" for 30 years) you needed to have all that extra stuff or the other candidates are going to get ahead of you.  So, how is all this extra stuff going to help you, really?  Keep it Simple.

     From interview rater Captain Steve Prziborowski:

    I'm with Captain Bob on this one - leave them at home!  Personally, letters of recommendation really aren't worth much because it is very easy to get them (in my opinion and experience) and they're like a verbal recommendation of someone.  Many times, people will say how great you are either to get rid of you or because they really don't know the true you.

    On an oral panel, they don't have the time to look at them either.  Every oral panel I have been on (on either side), there has usually not been much room for the rater's to utilize.  There is usually a cramped table space with enough room for a rating sheet, and then maybe your application and/or resume, that's it.

    You're getting graded at the oral for things you say, not for things that are written down.  Remember if you don't say it, you probably won't get full credit for it.  Dimensions you're getting graded on during oral interviews include oral communication, NOT written communication.  

    If the rater's are reading your paperwork, they're not listening to you - and that can be bad (remember if you didn't say it in the oral, you're not going to get full credit for it, even if it is on your resume). Having to read your resume and application while trying to make notes and comments on your rating sheet and keep their ears open to make sure you say all of the key phrases, buzz words, etc. is challenging enough. Throwing more paperwork in front of them (letters of recommendations, certifications, etc.) just convolutes the issue.

    About the only time to include a letter of recommendation might be during the chief's oral (even that is an iffy time).  Personally, if I was a chief, I really wouldn't put much weight on a letter of recommendation (and I know many chiefs that agree with me).  

    In my opinion, letters are letters. Whether they are from your boss, a friend, an acquaintance, etc. Whether they are saying how awesome you supposedly are, how great you performed at an event, etc.

    Extra, unnecessary paperwork, that just takes away from what you're being graded for.  During a background investigation, unless they ask for it, I wouldn't provide it.  The background investigator has enough to deal with than have more paperwork.

    Click here for Entry Level Products Page
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    29. Don't Ever Say Pay or Benefits!

    Most of us, if not all of us want to become firefighters for the same reasons: good money, good benefits, good work schedule, job security, etc.....

    To those of you that have scored a 95+ on an oral: Have you ever answered the above to the famous oral question: "Why do you want to become a Firefighter" and actually receive a good oral score using an answer of pay or benefits?

    For a lot of us this is the number one reason, however we might not feel comfortable saying this.

    Anyone who has the nerve to give any answer of pay, benefits or work schedule is committing instant suicide!

    It's an unwritten law. We know it on the oral board, but don't tell us. Sitting on a board, I can't believe candidates would still say those things. You're stepping on a land mine here. If anyone has received a good score from that answer, it was a fluke.

    It's better to use your own signature story of what sparked interest to be a firefighter. That is an answer they have never heard.

    One of our candidates gave that answer about pay and benefits during coaching. He had great credentials; had taken over thirty tests. We suggested he not use that answer and some others. Three days later, he took his oral on the last Stockton test. He got his best score and position ever. Guess where he works?

    Our thanks go out to Capt Bob Smith for his article and insight.  For more information on his book, Becoming a Firefighter:  The Complete Guide to Your Badge, and his entry level DVD/CD oral interview program that has helped thousands of individuals to get the job of their dreams  (included in the Ultimate Firefighter Examination Prep Package), go to our entry level fireman test products page or site map.  Good luck!!

    Click here for Entry Level Products Page
    Click here to review the Ultimate Firefighter Exam Package

    30. Using Humor in an Interview

    Unless you're a humorous person, don't plan on laying something funny on the panel. I've seen people that weren't funny to begin with try to include humor in a presentation. It bombed. How would you feel in that situation if the room went dead silent and everyone just stared at you? What if this humor was your opening statement?

    This happened to Ted. He said it threw off his timing and confidence and he really never recovered. If something funny happens naturally during your interview or presentation, that's a gift. Don't plan on it happening.

    You sure don't want to have this happen in your interview.

    Along with answering the questions correctly and having enthusiasm, it is important to keep a smooth flow during your interview.  We have all been at a party where a group of guys are standing around telling jokes and laughing.  Then somebody says something that doesn't quite fit and the mood is gone, there is that uncomfortable silence.

    One of the places I have seen this is when someone is asked a question like, "What if you are on duty and a co-worker smells like marijuana smoke?"   The candidate, thinking he will get extra points for being innocent, says, "Well, I don't know what marijuana smells like."  Then there is that uncomfortable silence.  You see, the oral board wanted to find out how the candidate would handle a drug problem in the work place. Now they have to explain that he does know what it smells like, and pick back up with the interview.  But he never regains the smooth flow.

    Another candidate, when asked if he had anything to add, or any questions for the panel, said "I just wanted to know if you could think of any mistakes I might make in training, after I get hired, so I can avoid them?"  This was met with the opened mouths of the interview panel, they didn't know what to say.  He had taken an excellent interview and just flushed it.  The last impression they had of him was that he might be kind of goofy.

    In both of these situations, the person had done something they thought would make them stand out.  Well it did, but not the way any of us would want.  Don't try any funny stuff in the interview. It is just too hard to recover if it goes bad.

    The best way to keep a smooth, steady flow is to practice, talk into a tape player, talk in your car on the way to work.  Do mock interviews. Jump at any chance you have to be speaking your stuff.  Get to the point that it is like pushing play on a tape player.

     So when you go in for your next interview, you can relax and be yourself.  Getting to the point that your script is so well memorized, that there is no way you could forget any of it.  It can make a big difference.  Even if they don't ask all of the questions you have prepared. It is just the way you carry yourself when you know you have done all you can to be ready.  It is a great feeling.

    Our thanks go out to Capt Bob Smith for his article and insight.  For more information on his book, Becoming a Firefighter:  The Complete Guide to Your Badge, and his entry level DVD/CD oral interview program that has helped thousands of individuals to get the job of their dreams  (included in the Ultimate Firefighter Examination Prep Package), go to our entry level fireman test products page or site map.  Good luck!!

    Click here for Entry Level Products Page
    Click here to review the Ultimate Firefighter Exam Package

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