05-08-2006, 06:32 PM #1
- Join Date
- Mar 2006
What should I know about the department I am testing for?
I have two of my first oral interviews coming up ( Burbank and Rialto, CA) and just was wondering what type of information I should know about each department.
05-08-2006, 10:28 PM #2
- Join Date
- Nov 2005
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 department’s 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 what’s 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, “Is anyone here?” This would be similar to someone walking into your open garage and calling your name. It’s 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 “active” hiring list even if they don’t 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 department’s 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: “I understand that you have 23 fire stations and that your department runs 50,000 calls per year.” The difference is that the firefighters see that you have taken the time to do your research, and you don’t expect them to do it for you. Again, it’s 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 “inside information.”)
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, “The fire department ran well for 100 years before you became a member. You can bet it will run for another 100 years after you’re gone. It’s up to us to make sure we leave it in the hands of competent people.”
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; 05-08-2006 at 10:30 PM.
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