Michael J. Ward discusses some important suggestions to help you secure a job with a metropolitan fire department. Psst! Wanna know a secret? All of your fire college and state certifications mean nothing to a big-city fire department hiring officer. Not a bit of your volunteer time, patches, ranks...
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Michael J. Ward discusses some important suggestions to help you secure a job with a metropolitan fire department.
Psst! Wanna know a secret? All of your fire college and state certifications mean nothing to a big-city fire department hiring officer. Not a bit of your volunteer time, patches, ranks or awards will put you higher on the eligibility list. If you have the courage, read on to learn the "8 Secrets" of getting hired by that big-city fire department you dream about.
You are hired based on your physical and mental aptitude. The employer will provide all needed training during a nine- to 26-week recruit school. The only change to this hundred-year-old practice is the impact of federal Affirmative Action and Equal Employment Opportunity (AA/EEO) legislation and court decrees.
Getting hired is a specific and arduous process that is different for every jurisdiction. To be sitting in a recruit school means that you were selected from up to 600 applications. Of those candidates who did not make it, 25% to 60% of them did not do the tasks or follow-ups that were required to stay in the hiring game.
Some unsuccessful applicants will tell you the process is "rigged." City employees who process the applicants will tell you that unsuccessful candidates cannot follow directions or show up on time to appointments. The truth is that hiring is a long, bureaucratic process that looks for reasons not to hire you. All cities have preferential hiring to meet federal AA/EEO guidelines. Many have practices that comply with consent decrees, lawsuit settlements or local policies. It's important for you to know the local rules.
Your first task in getting hired is to do the opposite of what hundreds of others have done. Decide where you want to work FIRST.
Do not spend years taking fire science classes at the community college. Do not waste hundreds of nights and weekends making rank at the local volunteer fire department. To get hired as a city firefighter, spend a week investigating the city where you want to work. You need to closely look at what the working conditions are really like at the fire department.
Your first step is to read all you can about the department. Use the local library and do a newspaper database search. In addition to search words like "___" city fire department," "firefighter" or "rescue," use "IAFF" and the names of the union president and fire chief. Look at the last five years; read about the problems, praises and issues. You can get an idea of what is happening in the department.
Go to the reference section and look for the city's annual report and current budget. Locate the fire department section of the budget. The budget is the spending map the fire department uses to operate during that fiscal year. Look for statements or expenditures that indicate if the department is expanding, shrinking or remaining level.
Photo by Chris Hutson
Visit fire headquarters office. Ask for a copy of the annual report or of any other current information about the department. An organizational chart and telephone are valuable.
Visit the local office of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF). This labor organization maintains a contract with fire department administration that covers working conditions, practices and problem-solving procedures. Most IAFF locals publish newsletters or magazines. Tell the local representative that you are applying to work at the fire department and ask if you can subscribe to the newsletter.
Stop by a couple of fire stations. See how the rigs and stations look. Remember, the city fire department does not go to musters or parades. The pumpers and aerials are designed to put fires out and operate for 20 to 30 years. Many Midwest and Northeast fire stations will be 70 to 120 years old. There have been decades of reduced funding to repair or maintain the fire station building — many are looking their age!
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