Why Candidates Fail Simulation Exercises

Eleven ways to learn from the mistakes of others during the simulation test.


  The emergency scene simulation, also called the fire simulation, the fireground simulation, the tactical exercise, the tactical problem or some other similar name, can be one of the most challenging portions of a fire service promotional examination assessment center. More and more fire...


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10. Letting nervousness get the best of them – and it shows! If you can’t control your nervousness during the emergency simulation, how are you going to be in real life when the stress is more realistic and there is more at stake – such as lives? The best thing I’ve learned is that people typically fail for two reasons: they are unprepared or they are nervous. The preparation part is something you can definitely do; as for the nervousness, being properly prepared through lots of practice may help reduce your nervousness. If not, then you must figure out how to deal with it.

11. Inability to defend their actions or non-actions. There is a good chance you will be questioned by the raters during or, most likely, after the simulation, to allow them a chance to test your knowledge, skills and abilities. A common question that is asked is “Why did you do (or not do) this or that?” Or, “What would you do differently?” Many candidates want to start spilling the beans and changing their mind, thinking they did something wrong.

First of all, realize everyone is asked the same question, so don’t feel guilty. For example, if you’re asked “What would you do differently,” your answer could be as easy as “I believe I covered all of the bases and had sufficient resources and personnel on scene or in staging; I cannot see anything I would do differently.” Perfect; that may be a great answer, if that was the case. You have to be flexible when necessary, as that is what is needed in real life. More importantly, you have to defend your actions or non-actions; stick to your guns when necessary, but be able to activate Plan B or Plan C when needed.

While many of these tips could be used on any event within a promotional assessment center (such as an oral interview, a written exercise, or even a subordinate counseling session), they are most relevant to the emergency scene simulation. As a rater, I’m looking not only for the safe beginners, but for those that can also hit the ground running if they were to get a badge the day the list is established as many departments may not offer acting time due to their rules or the number of promotions needed.

The raters and ultimately your department are not expecting perfection during your next emergency scene simulation exercise. However, they are looking for someone who can get promoted the day the eligibility list is established and then do the job itself in a safe, effective and efficient manner.

STEVE PRZIBOROWSKI is a Firehouse.com contributing editor and a battalion chief for the Santa Clara County, CA, Fire Department. He is an adjunct faculty member in the Chabot College Fire Technology Program in Hayward, CA, where he has been teaching fire technology classes since 1993. Prziborowski is a past president of the Northern California Training Officers Association and was named the 2008 Ed Bent California Fire Instructor of the year. He is a state-certified chief officer and master instructor, has earned a master’s degree in emergency services administration, and is finishing up the Executive Fire Officer Program at the National Fire Academy.