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...


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An organization cannot have members follow only the policies and procedures that they feel are important. The organization would become undisciplined and collapse. This is why a fire department is a paramilitary organization, adopting many of the military’s hierarchies, policies and procedures. A soldier would never violate a policy or procedure, so why would a firefighter do so in a paramilitary organization?

Moral and ethical questions are easy to answer once you understand the concept behind them. If you break it down, it is not a moral or ethical dilemma for you – it is a dilemma for the other firefighter. You know what you are going to do. You are going to take the high road and do the right thing. The only thing left to do is to convince the other firefighter of the importance of doing what he or she knows is right.

Legal issues are usually clear-cut. Most candidates understand the importance of taking action when a situation is illegal. You can bet that those who don’t will not fare well in the interview process.

Societal obligations usually revolve around the “gray area.” Suppose that a firefighter has been involved in an off-duty activity that crosses or comes close to the line of good judgment. It is easier for the candidate to answer correctly if the incident is a clear violation; however, since such questions are set up to determine how a candidate stands on certain issues, they usually are vague.

It is important to investigate and gather the facts. If it appears that some type of wrongdoing has occurred, it is incumbent on you to address the situation. The panel does not expect you to do an in-depth investigation. Your responsibility is to recognize when something just does not seem right. If you feel that there has been a wrongdoing, but you are not sure, you should refer the situation to your captain.

Interpersonal conflicts create an uncomfortable working environment and erode crew unity. There are numerous situational questions to determine how candidates deal with interpersonal conflicts. Humans deal with interpersonal conflicts every day. Conflicts in a fire station are magnified because firefighters live, eat and sleep in close quarters. A fire station is a small place when crew members don’t get along. These questions are going to determine which candidates are able to get along with others.

When confronted with an interpersonal conflict, it is important to approach the other individual and clear the air. A savvy candidate will ask the other firefighter if he or she is doing something that needs to be changed. Instead of assuming that the other firefighter is off base, it is important to ask (and listen) what you can do to improve.

Whatever the cause of the irritation, it is important for the candidate to be humble. As you root your way down to the source of the conflict, it may be that you are not meeting the standard. It may also be that you are not perceived as being a team player.

Paul Lepore is a captain with the Long Beach, CA, Fire Department. He entered the fire service as a civilian paramedic for the Los Angeles City Fire Department in 1985 and a year later he was hired by the Long Beach Fire Department. He spent the next two years working as a firefighter until he was promoted to firefighter/paramedic. Five years ago, he was promoted to fire captain and is currently on the promotional list for battalion chief. Paul has conducted hundreds of entry-level interviews and served as a rater for several captains promotional exams. He holds instructor credentials for EMT, hazardous materials and weapons of mass destruction. Paul has conducted numerous seminars to coach and mentor promotional and entry-level candidates, and he founded EMS Safety Services Inc., a first-aid and CPR training corporation. Paul is the author of Smoke Your Firefighter Interview, which may ordered online at www.smokeyourffinterview.com or by calling 800 215-9555.