50 Character Traits Every Firefighter Candidate Should Possess

Sept. 25, 2006
Here are some positive character traits a candidate should be able to demonstrate when leadership evaluates whether they're a good fit for a fire department.

There is no one-size fits all candidate that is a best fit for a fire department. However, there are numerous character traits that are considered to be highly desirable by many departments when they are evaluating candidates during the hiring process and especially during the oral interview process. If you work for a fire department and are responsible for hiring, training, and/or evaluating firefighters, do you have a way to adequately test a candidate for the following traits? If not, I encourage you to find a way to do so.

If you work for a fire department that is having a problem with a specific probationary firefighter or has had a track record of having problems with probationary firefighters, take a look at the list below and I will bet those firefighters did not possess a good majority of them. If that is the case, see if there is a way to evaluate for these character traits before you put someone into the recruit academy and/or probation, and have already invested a significant amount of money to getting them up and running. Being proactive is always preferred to being reactive.

Here are some positive character traits a successful candidate will be able to demonstrate and discuss with the oral board and the fire department that is evaluating whether you will be a good fit for their department:

  1. Accountable (for your actions, your performance, etc.).
  2. Adaptable (to pretty much any situation or task asked of you).
  3. Advocate (for your customer, knowing when to do the right thing for the right reason).
  4. Aggressiveness (not in a dangerous or stupid way, but in a positive and safe way. Aggressive in your pursuit of education and training, in your way of doing the best job you can, etc.).
  5. Caring (for your customers and co-workers).
  6. Commitment (to life-long learning and education, to the fire service, to your department, to your customers).
  7. Common sense (face it, people with a lack of common sense helps keep us employed. A firefighter that lacks common sense is useless in my opinion).
  8. Compassionate (to your customers and co-workers).
  9. Customer service oriented (everything we do is for the customer. If it wasn't for them, we would not have jobs).
  10. Dedication (to the fire service, your department, your career, your co-workers, and to your customers).
  11. Dependable (showing up early and always on time, never late or forgetting to do something or be somewhere).
  12. Disciplined (knowing when to say when, what to do, and what not to do).
  13. Diversity friendly (appreciation of and understanding of).
  14. Driven (to success, to better your performance, to be the best you can be, to serve your customer the best you can, etc.).
  15. Empathy (to your customers and co-workers).
  16. Ethics (what do you think is ethical behavior? Every day you will be faced with making ethical decisions; all it takes is one poor choice and your career or reputation is ruined).
  17. Faith (not necessarily in a religious way, but that things will get better and that your superiors are acting in your best interest).
  18. Flexible (to pretty much any situation or task asked of you).
  19. Good listener (if you're talking more than you're listening, you're probably not a good communicator).
  20. Hard-worker (the world has enough slackers and slot fillers. Be the one that is the last to sit down and the first one to get up and do the work needing to be done. Also, be the one that doesn't complain about having to do things when they need to get done).
  21. Honesty (to your department, to your customers, and to your co-workers).
  22. Honor (to the fire service, to your department, to your customers, and to your co-workers).
  23. Humorous (a sense of humor is critical to your success and enjoyment of life. You have to be able to make fun of yourself, tell clean jokes that do not offend anyone, not take things personally, have thick skin, and be able to make the best out of the worst situation).
  24. Initiative (we want folks that know what to do and when to do it. Don't wait to be told to do something, it may be too late and you'll already have earned a reputation of being a slacker or being lazy).
  25. Integrity (as a representative of the department, off duty and on duty, we want folks that will represent us in the best light. Positive public relations is vital to our survival).
  26. Intelligence (we don't need to hire a dummy. We expect you to hit the ground running and provide educated opinions and make smart decisions when needed).
  27. Lack of ego (there is a fine line between being confident and cocky. We want confidence, we don't want cockiness. Everyone has an ego - make sure yours doesn't get in the way of doing the right thing for the right reason).
  28. Lack of entitlement (the department and fire service was here long before you were; it will also be here long after you are dead and gone. You are not entitled to anything, not even a job. Appreciate what you have and respect each day you are fortunate enough to work in the greatest industry in the world - the fire service).
  29. Leadership (management and leadership do not mean the same thing. Personnel of all ranks and seniority need to demonstrate leadership ability on a continuous basis in everything they do).
  30. Loyalty (to your department, your customers, your co-workers).
  31. Maturity (age doesn't determine maturity, character does).
  32. Motivation (only you can motivate yourself, don't expect someone else to have to do so, it cannot happen).
  33. Organized (if you want to be a firefighter and especially if you want to ever be a company or chief officer, you have to be organized. Not being organized will increase stress and cause you to not get as much accomplished as you would like to or need to).
  34. Obedience (to your department, to the fire service, to your customers, to your co-workers).
  35. Passion (towards your department, towards the fire service, towards your customers, towards your co-workers).
  36. Persistence (in everything you do, don't be a quitter).
  37. Punctual (you are expected to be early - at least on time, to all phases of the hiring process and when you are working as a firefighter. Tardiness is unacceptable and will lead to discipline if not corrected or controlled. When you call 9-1-1, do you want the emergency crews to be on time, early, or late?).
  38. Responsible (for yourself, your actions, your performance, etc.).
  39. Retention (ability to retain things. You don't want to be the person with the nickname "50 first dates" after the movie of the same name. That would tend to make someone believe you don't remember things after you are told or taught something).
  40. Sacrifices (ability to make sacrifices for the betterment of your department, the fire service, your family, your customers, your co-workers, etc.).
  41. Self-confidence (there is a fine line between being too confident and too cocky. We love confidence, we hate cockiness. Taking a blood pressure and letting the paramedic know that "I think it is about 120/80" does not demonstrate self-confidence. "The blood pressure is 120/80" demonstrates self-confidence).
  42. Self-starter (you can't always wait to be told how or when to do something. Sometimes you need to get something done and at the right time. Waiting for your company officer to tell you to do your assigned housework everyday means you are not a self-starter and lack initiative).
  43. Studious (becoming a firefighter is like learning a new language. You will be learning something new everyday on the job. If you are not, something is wrong. There is a difference between having 30 years of experience on the job and 30 "1 year experiences combined for a total of 30 years.").
  44. Sympathy (to your customers, to your co-workers).
  45. Talkative (not in a negative or annoying way, but having the ability to talk about yourself and communicate with others. Since we work closely with others, for 24 hours or more at a time, we want to get to know our co-workers, especially the new ones. Be able to talk about yourself in a tactful and non-overbearing, yet interesting way that makes people want to be around you).
  46. Teamwork (face it, there is no "I" in team. One person cannot do this job by themselves. The fire service does not need loners; we need people that can fit into a team, accomplish work through teamwork, and work harmoniously with various people from all genders and ethnicities).
  47. Tenacity (at whatever you are doing).
  48. Work ethic (slackers need not apply to a career in the fire service. You need a good work ethic; having one will earn you a great reputation and help you when it comes to paying your dues).
  49. Values (what are yours - what do you stand for and think is appropriate behavior?).

You may think that I have duplicated many of the items because they sound similar. While many traits are similar, they are also different in many ways. Please take the time to learn and understand what each word means and have a good example of how you are currently living up to that word and how you intend to be that way in the future. Doing so will not only make you a better person, but also a better firefighter - someone anyone would be proud to say they know and work with!

Steve Prziborowski is a 14-year veteran and student of the fire service and is currently serving as an Acting Battalion Chief for the Santa Clara County,CA, Fire Department. Other positions Steve has held at the Santa Clara County Fire Department include: Firefighter/Engineer, Firefighter/Engineer-Paramedic, Fire Captain, Training Captain, and Operations Captain. Additional responsibilities include serving or having served as an on-call Safety Officer, an on-call Public Information Officer, and an on-call Fire Investigator.

Steve is also an instructor within the Chabot College (Hayward, CA) Fire Technology Program, where he has been instructing fire technology and EMS classes for 13 years. Four and a half years were also spent as the Fire Technology Coordinator, and seven years were also spent as the EMT Program Director and Primary Instructor.

Steve is an Executive Board member for the Northern California Training Officers Association, currently serving as the First Vice President, and scheduled to be the President in 2007. Steve is a state-certified Chief Officer, Fire Officer, Master Instructor, and Hazardous Materials Technician, as well as a state-licensed paramedic. Steve has an associate degree in fire technology, a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, and a master's degree in emergency services administration.

Steve also provides a free e-mail mailing list and publishes a free monthly newsletter (The Chabot College Fire & EMS News); both are geared toward better preparing the future firefighter for a career in the fire service and the current firefighter for promotion, and are available on his website at www.chabotfire.com.

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