Handling Situational Questions on Firefighter Exams

The oral board uses these questions to assess a firefighter candidate’s thought process.


Most fire departments use some type of interview process to select entry-level candidates. In fact, so much weight is put on the “oral” that it is not uncommon to see the interview accounting for 100% of a candidate’s overall score while the other phases of the exam are scored as “pass or...


To access the remainder of this piece of premium content, you must be registered with Firehouse. Already have an account? Login

Register in seconds by connecting with your preferred Social Network.

OR

Complete the registration form.

Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required

Perhaps the best part of each column will be the “reasoning” section found at the end of each question. This section will break down each question and explains why the examiners are looking for a particular answer. The reader will gain insight into fire department cultures as well as understand the rationale as to why we are looking for a particular response.

Situation questions were developed to determine how a candidate would react when faced with adversity. The six categories of questions can be broken to test how a candidate would react to the following:

 

Many candidates try to figure out what the board wants them to say instead of answering what they would really do. For example, you are asked what you would do in the following situation: You observe that the engineer who is backing up the rig has struck a car. As you approach, you see him rubbing out a small scratch. He looks up, sees you and tells you not to worry about it. You say to him that you feel it’s important for him to bring it to the captain’s attention. He explains that he has “been here for a long time” and that it is “just a junky old car.” He also tells you that “in the fire service we stick together” and asks you to “cover my back on this one.”

Many candidates are lulled into a false sense of security by the question. They are confused by the “brotherhood” of the fire service and are led to believe that firefighters are willing to lie for the good of a coworker. Nothing can be further from the truth. We don’t lie and cover up anything.

The best advice for answering situational questions is to try to determine how you would handle a given situation if you encountered it in your everyday life. Follow this line of questioning: You and a friend are having dinner at a restaurant. As you leave the parking lot, he backs up into another car. There is a small scratch that is barely visible. He tells you not to worry about it. What would you do and why?

This one is easy. You would tell your friend that he is nuts. There is no way you are willing to turn your back on the fact that he just damaged someone’s car. This the universal answer that everyone swears they would do. You would attempt to locate the owner or at minimum leave a note on the vehicle. You would never consider leaving the scene. That, of course, would be illegal. In fact, it would be considered a hit and run.

For some reason, however, when some candidates are faced with the same situation, but the other individual is wearing a firefighter’s uniform, they can be persuaded to do something that is immoral, unethical or illegal.

There are some common rules of thumb in dealing with moral issues. The most basic advice is to determine whether you are being asked to do something that is immoral. If so, or if the question makes you uncomfortable, it is imperative to do the right thing. The right thing is to step up and take a stand against the immoral action. Even though an action may not be illegal, it can still be immoral. If this is the case, the candidate is expected to intervene. Firefighters do not operate in a “gray area.” If an action is wrong, it is wrong. If there is even a perception that it may be wrong, it is wrong. Perception is reality.

It is important to maintain the dignity of the fire service. Firefighters are among the few people the public allow into their homes without giving a second thought to hiding or protecting their valuables. It is incumbent on all firefighters to protect and honor this privilege.

Ethical questions that you may face in an entry-level interview deal with actions that may not be illegal, but go against society’s rules or the cultural rules of the fire department. Ethical dilemmas are often tied to violations of departmental policies and procedures. If you consider for a moment why a policy or procedure was written, you will generally discover that it resulted from a firefighter or civilian injury, damage to equipment or an action that cost the fire department money.

If a candidate elects to violate a known policy because it seemed insignificant, he or she has set the tone for breaking additional policies. An astute rater will ask the candidate whether organizational policies are important. The candidate will undoubtedly nod his or her head yes. The rater will then say that since the candidate chose to violate this “insignificant” policy, how would he or she determine which policies to follow? In other words, where do you draw the line?