Thread: Oral board question
11-30-2005, 12:35 PM #1
- Join Date
- Oct 2005
Oral board question
I just found out that I am going to my oral boards in one week. I have been thinking a lot about the question "What do you know about our department and city?". Some people recommended going to the station to do ride alongs and talk with the firefighters. I haven't done this because I am afraid of looking as if I am trying to "suck up". How much information are they looking for? Should I visit the department?
thanks, from a very nervous, excited candidate....
11-30-2005, 12:38 PM #2
I would visit the station. I would not look at you as a suck up, I would look at you as someone who wants to learn. I always engourage rookies to go up to stations and talk with the FF's and familarize themselves with the apparatus.
You do not want to go to your interview and know nothing about the department. It will look as if you not really care about the job.
11-30-2005, 01:07 PM #3
- Join Date
- Aug 2002
- San Francisco Bay Area
If they will allow you to do a station visit or a ride along (many departments won't allow this at some point prior to testing) do it. If you get the opportunity follow these guidelines:
Station Visits/Ride Alongs
Ride alongs can help or destroy you! Candidates want the opportunity to do ride alongs as a way of showing interest, gain information for their oral, and can say in their oral they had been to the stations. Often they donít know the culture and etiquette.
We had a candidate in one day for a ride along. He had an opinion on every topic that was brought up, including sports and the current movies. When it came time for lunch, he was the first one on his feet to fill his plate. His mother would have died from embarrassment.
Let me be blunt here. Dummy Up! You donít have enough time or experience to have an opinion! In this situation you have to be humble, have your questions already written down and realize you are a snotty nose rookie. Too many candidates come in wanting the badge so bad they act like they already have time and want to impress the guys with all of their knowledge. BIG ERROR!
This information will spread like wildfire and destroy you with those who will be making the decisions. Too many candidates tank themselves here and they never know what happened. This applies even if youíre already a firefighter applying for another department.
Donít take the bait. Even if you have a friend in the station. If the guys want to joke around and play games, donít do it. You are not part of their family yet. You have no time or experience!
Some departments donít allow ride alongs during test time. If youíre lucky enough to do a ride along, show up on time with a desert. Home made is best. If itís ice cream, make sure itís the round stuff; not the square stuff. We had so much square stuff during one of test we had a contest in the back yard to see who could throw the square stuff the furthest.
After giving this information at a college fire program a candidate shows up at my station the next day. He didnít make an appointment, have desert, or have any questions ready. McFly?
One candidate told me in another class that he had made an appointment and had to wait a half hour when he got there. Poor baby. Understand this is our home. We spend more time at the firehouse than with our own family. So here you come waltzing into our home not knowing what to do.
If youíre fortunate to get a ride along, stay for lunch if offered. Offer to pay your share and do the dishes. Leave before dinner (unless asked to stay) and never spend the night. You might interfere with the kick back time during and after dinner.
Should you go to as many or all the stations in a department? Please spare us this part. Donít turn yourself inside out trying to cover all of the stations hoping the word will get back that you did. It will make you look anal and compulsive. This will raise its ugly head in the psychological test if you get that far. One or two stations are fine. If you try to do them all, it only increases the chances of saying or doing the wrong thing or catching a shift of malcontents that will badmouth you.
If youíre bent on doing a ride along, first make an appointment. During test time things get crazy. Be patient. Act like you would if you were the new rookie in the station.
11-30-2005, 02:50 PM #4
Very true, So many rookies, probies, or whatever you want to call them, show up with this attitude like they have been there for 10 years. Suck it up and respect the people who have put in their time as you are about to. Although sometimes it is forgotten, respect is very important in a firehouse.
11-30-2005, 03:56 PM #5
- Join Date
- Nov 2005
1. I think ride alongs are a great idea, just follow all the advice above.
2. In terms of "what do you know about our department?", I have seen both sides of this. I think most boards are really looking to hear you speak, and clearly convey your thoughts. I answered this question with 3 or 4 very minor things- ie there are 16 stations, there's a fireboat, the Chief's name. Admitted I wasn't too familiar with their deprtment. Seemed to work for me...
3. Remember, most questions they will ask, in my opinion, really don't have a right answer/wrong answer, they just want to get a vibe for what kind of person you are.
12-01-2005, 10:16 AM #6
- Join Date
- Oct 2005
Thanks to all that replied. I have reading everything I can on the oral interview process since I came across this forum with Capt Bob, Lepore, & Don McNea's site. Never realized there was so much that I was actually planning on saying in this interview that was wrong or just a clone of everyone else. When I made the appointment for my oral, I was told that it is going to last 15 minutes and then I will go straight into the Chief's interview. They are doing all the interviews over a two day period. That seems like a quick interview, but this is my first so I could be wrong. I do know that with just 15 minutes I want to make the best impression I can in a small amount of time, and thanks to you guys for giving me tips and a little heads up on what to expect, etc.
12-01-2005, 12:10 PM #7
- Join Date
- Aug 2002
- San Francisco Bay Area
Shot Gun Effect
The best way to handle this type of question about the city and department is to use the shotgun effect. Give them a smattering of areas like square miles, population, type of city government, number of stations, engines, trucks, number of personnel and target hazards. If the panel looks baffled, ask them if they want to hear more. They probably won't.
What would you think if you were on an oral panel and the candidate gave you a sample smattering answer? Right, you would think he had done their homework.
You donít want to go endlessly here. Just a sample smattering. I had a candidate one day tell us so much he got down to the grid water system the city used. Definitely overkill. Another candidate during coaching had a good answer for city information. In the next two weeks before his oral he piled more information onto his answer. He ended up making a long answer endless, finally telling them the number of convention hotel rooms that were available. He committed suicide in his efforts to over impress the panel. Oh, yeah, this is the guy we want to put in a station that would drive everyone Nuts!
Iíve had some of these jewels on my oral boards. They talked endlessly. They almost put us to sleep. We couldnít wait for them to leave the room. Going on and on only turns off the mind of the individual panel members. This is nothing more than Russian roulette.
Keep in mind too that in a 20-minute interview you will have about 5-6 questions and answers. One candidate in the hot seat was asked the question, ďWhat do you know about our department?Ē
The candidate proceeded to give this fast, rapid fire, long endless salvo drop answer. It was like he was trying to cram everything in he could think of down to fine details. Just when you though he was coming in for a landing, he touched down and took flight again. You could see the glaze coming over those on the panel as he continued.
It can be to the point of overkill, making you sound anal. Oh, yea this is the guy we want to stick in a station and drive everyone else crazy.
Candidates have been told by many other candidates and firefighters to keep answering until they stop you. Well, put your self in the position of a panel member and you have to stop this guy to get him to shut up. How would you rate them?
If you go endless in your answers, you might get cut off before you got to deliver some of the best stuff.
Goes along with what a BC with a large agency said about candidates after a recent oral board. In one word ďBoringĒ. Few stellar characters. We need to set a time limit. Even though there was a 20-minute allotted time, HR would not let the panels cut any one that wanted to go longer. He said, how can a 22-year old talk for 40 minutes on endless stuff they have seen and done? Make the point and end your answer please. Itís day 12 and weíre tired.
This certainly does not go along with my policy of keeping things simple (KISS) for the majority of tests you will encounter. Everyone becomes an expert once theyíre hired (have you noticed). Some postings on firefighter bulletin boards are examples of guys who want the interview to be the way they want it to be and are disregarding the way the interview really is.
The choice is yours.
12-05-2005, 09:39 PM #8
- Join Date
- Nov 2005
Visiting stations is a huge part of the hiring process. Do the firefighters know why youíre there? Of course they do. They expect the serious candidates to come by. I can tell you that if you do not visit the stations before you get hired, you are not a serious candidate.
I would encourage you to bring a pie or ice cream as a treat for the firefighters. Why? Itís just what is expected.
Here are some thoughts on visiting stations:
Visiting fire stations is a critical part of the hiring process. You will get to know the details of the job, station life, and that particular departmentís unique culture. Even more importantly, the firefighters will get to know you.
If you visit the stations early enough, before the department announces the recruitment exam, this can be a reality for you. If you show up with the testing crowd (all of the other candidates who show up once the department announces they are giving an entry-level exam), which often numbers in the thousands, your chances of getting to know the station crew, and vice versa, are greatly diminished.
The actual testing may be done by the civil service or personnel department, with input from the fire department, but you can be sure the firefighters in the station houses have their fingers on the pulse of whatís going on. As you can imagine, it is extremely difficult for firefighters on an interview panel to determine in a 20-minute interview if they want you as a member of the department for the next 30 years. Why not have firefighters who have gotten to know you, pitch you to the oral board?
It is important to understand that, good or bad, you are establishing your reputation the minute you walk in the door on your first visit. A positive opinion of you may make its way to the interview board. On the other hand, a poor first impression may also make it to the board.
It is hard to predict the best time to visit a fire station. In most agencies the phone numbers to the fire stations are not public record. It is up to you to go to the station and make contact. Since the firefighters are not sitting around waiting for you to knock on the door, there is a good chance you will miss them when you show up. This is especially true in high impact areas where the fire department experiences a high call volume. Ironically, the busier stations are the ones you want to visit. Since these stations run calls all day and night long, the younger firefighters are sent there to get experience. These are the ones who are the most current on the testing process since they went through it most recently.
Whenever you visit a fire station it is customary to dress nicely. Some candidates may elect to wear a suit and tie, while others prefer business professional (nice pants and shirt). Is a suit and tie overdressing for the occasion? Probably. How would you rather be remembered: as the candidate who showed up in a suit and tie, or one who showed up in a tank top and flip-flops? Believe me, the firefighters will remember you.
I know a candidate who showed up to a fire station wearing a suit and tie to inquire about the testing process. When asked if he was on his way home from work, he said that he was off today. When asked about his suit and tie he told the firefighters that the job was very important to him and he wanted to make a good first impression. The firefighters were speechless. Imagine the help they gave him. (Remember, we want to hire people we like, and who will cherish the job.) This candidate certainly made a strong first impression.
The same can be said for someone who comes by dressed in a less than professional manner. It is a poor choice to show up looking like you just came from the beach or the gym. It is important to remember that you are visiting our house. We are professional when we are called to your house. We ask that you show the same respect.
The firefighters appreciate (and expect) that you will bring an edible gift when you visit. An apple pie is my personal favorite. It keeps well as you are parked in front of the station waiting for the crew to return. Ice cream will melt, and a banana cream pie (which is also a firehouse favorite) will get warm and spoil. A warm apple pie, however, appears to have just come out of the oven.
It is important to knock on the door or ring the bell, even if the apparatus doors are up. It is an invasion of privacy to walk in unannounced to a fire station and yell, ďIs anyone here?Ē This would be similar to someone walking into your open garage and calling your name. Itís just not good firehouse etiquette, and is certainly not the positive first impression you were hoping for.
Once you have knocked on the door and a firefighter opens it, you should introduce yourself and ask if it is convenient for you to have a moment of their time. A pie in your hands will naturally increase the likelihood of them having some time for you. If it is not a good time for them, ask if you can make an appointment to come back later.
If you are turned down at the first fire station, go back to your car and open the map book and find the next closest station. In an urban area the next station may only be a mile or two away. In a rural setting you will have a further distance to travel. Once you have found the next station, repeat the process.
The best time to visit a fire station is between 3 and 5 PM. The firefighters have probably finished their inspections and are either working out or preparing dinner. The mornings are usually reserved for fire prevention activities or other fire department related activities. The late afternoon is usually less structured.
Once you have been invited in, it is important to explain that you are there because you are interested in getting hired by their department. Ask them if they know what to expect from the testing process. Generally speaking, the agency will give an exam on a fairly regular basis. Many departments have it in their city charter to have an ďactiveĒ hiring list even if they donít have any projected openings.
It is important to have researched the department before going to the fire station. You can do this by visiting the fire department administrative office or by looking up the departmentís website. However you choose to do your homework, do not ask the firefighters how many stations the department has and how many calls they go on each year. This is a waste of THEIR time. You will quickly lose their interest and be politely escorted from the station at the first opportunity.
The best way to reinforce a positive first impression is to show that you have done your research. You can confirm your information by asking them if you can review it with them: ďI understand that you have 23 fire stations and that your department runs 50,000 calls per year.Ē The difference is that the firefighters see that you have taken the time to do your research, and you donít expect them to do it for you. Again, itís a sign of respect. Their time is too valuable.
Some of the questions you should ask include but are not limited to the following:
1. How long is the probationary period?
2. What can I expect from the academy?
3. How is the relationship between the fire department and the community?
4. How many firefighters are going to be hired and how long is the eligibility list?
5. What desirable qualifications is the department looking for? (You will have
already read the job description flyer, but you are looking for the ďinside information.Ē)
6. What are the strengths of the department?
7. What are the opportunities for advancement down the road?
8. What can I do to make a good impression on the oral board?
9. Is the fire department active in the community? (e.g. teaching first aid and CPR courses, public service day, CERT Training, etc.)
10. What do you like about the department?
11. What additional projects or assignments are firefighters able to get involved in? (e.g. fire prevention bureau, hazardous materials team, confined space or technical rescue, and paramedic program)
12. What are the different areas of the community that the fire department services? (e.g. airport, marine, wild land interface, freeway, commercial, high-rise industrial, residential and beaches)
13. What special community projects is the fire chief planning to implement? (e.g. CERT Program, train a certain percentage of the community in first aid, CPR and AED, immunizations for the community)
14. What is important to the fire chief? (e.g. experience, education, mechanical aptitude, living in the community)
15. Is the city or county planning to add or delete fire stations?
16. For the new firefighters who have done well on probation, what qualities do they possess that have made them successful?
17. Where is the department headed in the future? (e.g. hazardous materials teams, weapons of mass destruction task force, immunizations for the community, add a BLS ambulance transport system)
18. What are some of the biggest morale boosters for the firefighters that have occurred in the last couple of years?
19. What projects has the department completed in the last few years? What projects are still in the works?
20. If you were in my position and you wanted to work for this department, what would be your next step?
21. Is there anyone else that you would recommend I speak to?
Most firefighters are very proud to be a member of their department. They want to be sure that the ones who follow feel the same way. A wise fire chief once told me, ďThe fire department ran well for 100 years before you became a member. You can bet it will run for another 100 years after youíre gone. Itís up to us to make sure we leave it in the hands of competent people.Ē
As you can see, when you show up to the stations the firefighters are unofficially deciding if you are worthy of being a member of the department. It is imperative that you leave them with a positive first impression.
Last edited by BCLepore; 12-05-2005 at 09:41 PM.
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