Thread: Station Visits
05-09-2007, 10:58 AM #1
- Join Date
- Apr 2007
I have passed the written test and am moving on to the physical test for a department. I am thinking ahead to the oral and have planned a few station visits. I want to become more familiar with the department and the city. I was wondering if anyone could give me advice on this. What questions to ask, should I bring something, etc... Any advice would help. Thanks
05-09-2007, 10:26 PM #2
- Join Date
- Nov 2005
Welcome to the board. This will answer all of your questions.
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.
05-10-2007, 10:22 AM #3
- Join Date
- Apr 2007
Thank you for all of the information. This is just what I needed. You have painted a clear picture as to what I should be planning out for my station visits. I will go to these visits with much more confidence now.
05-10-2007, 12:11 PM #4
- Join Date
- Aug 2002
- San Francisco Bay Area
Station visits and Ride alongs can help you 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 don't 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 if she had seen it.
Let me be blunt here. Dummy Up! You don't have enough time 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!
Because, this information will spread like wild fire 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 you're already a firefighter applying for another department.
Don't take the bait. Even if you have a friend in the station. If the guys want to joke around and play games, don't do it. You are not part of their family yet. You have no time!
Some departments don't allow ride alongs during test time. If you're lucky enough to do a ride along make an appointment, show up on time with a desert. Home made is best. If it's ice cream, make sure it's 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 didn't 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 fire house than with our own family. So here you come waltzing into our home with not knowing what to do.
If you're fortunate to get a ride along stay for lunch if offered. Offer to pay your share and do the dishes. Leave before dinner 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. Don't 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, which you probably are if you're doing this. This will raise its ugly head in the psychological test if you get that far. One or two stations is fine. If you try to do them all only increases the chances of saying or doing the wrong thing or catching a shift of malcontents that will bad mouth you.
If you're 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._____________________________________________
"Nothing counts 'til you have the badge . . . Nothing!"
Fire "Captain Bob"
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