Learn How to Master the Fire Service Hiring Game

Jan. 2, 2006
It's not playing a game in a negative way, but the whole hiring process can be considered a game.

Whether you believe it or not, becoming a firefighter is in essence, "playing a game." I don't mean playing a game in a negative way, I just mean the whole hiring process can be considered a game. Now don't take what I'm saying and think you don't have to take it seriously; that is far from the truth. You need to take the hiring process very seriously and realize it is survival of the fittest, so to speak. The best of the best will get hired, and the cream will rise to the top. Each phase of the hiring process is a test that you must succeed at, in order to continue to the next phase.

To successfully become a firefighter, it is paramount that you learn to master the game. If you can master the game, you are going to get hired. This is where most candidates fail; they do not learn how to master the game. They do not take the game seriously and they do not do everything in their power to be the best they can be at the firefighter hiring process.

Let's take a look at some ways candidates can master the fire service hiring game:

Know as much as you can about the department you are applying for. Research is paramount when you are applying for a job, and can be done via the internet (city website, fire department website, International Association of Fire Fighters Union Local website for that department, via search engines, etc.) and in person by doing station visits. How do you expect to do well and get the job if you have not taken the time to research what you are hoping to get into?

Know as much as you can about all of the phases of the firefighter hiring process. It amazes me how many candidates don't know what each phase consists of or expects of them. It is usually specifically stated on the job flyer what the different phases entail; if it is not, you can typically find that information out by visiting a fire station, visiting the fire department headquarters, or contacting the personnel/human resources department. How do you expect to be successful at the process if you do not know what the different phases consist of?

Be able to successfully pass all of the phases of the firefighter hiring process. Besides knowing as much as you can about the phases, you also have to be able to successfully pass all of the phases. I know many candidates that cannot even pass the written test. In most departments, the written test is usually one of the first phases of the hiring process. If you can't pass that, how are you going to get all the way to the final list?

Take every test you qualify for. This helps you learn your strengths and weaknesses, so that you can hopefully capitalize on the strengths and improve on the weaknesses. Trust me, we all have strengths and weaknesses; the key is learning what they are so we can make the most of them. Taking every test you qualify for also increases your chances of getting hired; the negative part about doing this is if you are finding yourself at a certain plateau and you are going nowhere. For example, you have taken ten different firefighter tests and you have yet to pass one of them. Why did you wait until the tenth test before you realized it was a problem? Shame on you! You should have immediately realized it was a problem and started working on those perceived weaknesses that you encountered during that phase of the hiring process.

Don't wait until the last minute to prepare yourself! Remember that you should always have the attitude that your dream fire department will be opening up their recruitment process tomorrow and that you will only have one day to apply. Too many people feel they don't have the time to prepare for an upcoming test, or they do not feel it is necessary to plan ahead. I remember having a firefighter ask me what books he should purchase for the upcoming captain's test - when I say upcoming, I mean that it was occurring in one month! After picking up my jaw from the ground, I tactfully told him which books he should purchase for the NEXT test that will be occurring in about 18 months. With a puzzled look, he asked me "what do you mean?" I told him that there is no conceivable way he could read and comprehend a few thousand pages of material in one month. He could definitely read and comprehend the material in 18 months, and now would be the best time to start preparing for the next test. Needless to say, he did take the captain's test, but he did not do well enough to get promoted. The bad part is that he got very close to getting promoted; so close he could probably taste it. I venture this made him kick himself for not taking more time in advance to prepare. So close, yet so far away.

Treat everyone you encounter in the hiring process with utmost respect and courtesy. Besides this being the way you should be treating everyone anyway, and being the right thing to do, you never know when and where you will meet up with these folks again. Trust me, it is a small, small world out there. I used to love a sign I saw some years ago "be careful of the toes you step on today - they may be connected to the butt you have to kiss tomorrow." So true, so true.

You've probably heard the saying that "life is just a game." Yes, it is. Now take it a step further and realize that becoming a firefighter is also just a game. The key to your success is that you are able to master that game. Mastering the game will get you where you want in life, guaranteed. Follow the above mentioned steps and you will provide more focus to your pursuit of becoming a firefighter. Start taking control of your destiny, and do what it takes to be successful - only you can make the difference!

About the Author

Steve Prziborowski

Steve Prziborowski, who is a Firehouse contributing editor, has more than 31 years of fire service experience. He recently retired as a deputy chief of training for the Santa Clara County Fire Department in Los Gatos, CA. Prziborowski is an instructor for the Chabot College Fire Technology Program and for the National Fire Academy. He received the Ronny Jack Coleman Leadership Legacy Award from the Center for Public Safety Excellence in 2020 and was named California Fire Instructor of the Year in 2008. Prziborowski is a regular presenter at fire service events, having presented in 40 states and Canada. He has authored and contributed to numerous articles, podcasts, videos, blogs and books and published four career development books: "Reach for the Firefighter Badge," "The Future Firefighter's Preparation Guide," "How to Excel at Fire Department Promotional Exams" and "101 Tips to Ace Your Promotional Exam." Prziborowski's fifth book on "Courage Under Fire Leadership" will be released in the near future.

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