Don’t Name Drop During Your Firefighter Oral Interview

Aug. 3, 2015
Steve Prziborowski explains why firefighter candidates should not mention names during their interviews.

Many firefighter candidates think it is appropriate to “drop names” when they are participating in any part of the firefighter hiring process, such as a station visit, an oral interview or some other phase of the hiring process. You may think this is a great idea and that by you knowing that special person you are mentioning, you will have an “in” with the fire department. Well, that may be true, but it may hurt you more than it helps you.

While you may be proud of knowing who you are saying you know (it be your father, mother, sibling, best friend, casual acquaintance), the person(s) hearing you drop that name may not be so proud of that person. Say it isn’t so? Well, it isn’t so! Many tend to forget that all of us have people that like us as well as people that do not like us, or just may not care for us, for some reason. Some people have more enemies than friends and some have more friends than enemies – that is reality.

So, here you go mentioning the name of your father to the oral board and how proud you would be to follow their footsteps in the same department. Well, did you ever think there might be people that did not like your father, as much of a saint or perfect person as your father may have been in your eyes? You may find that hard to believe, but the father you know may not be the same person that others see in the same way you see him to be. Do you think there is a chance that the oral board might look at you and think you are going to be just like your father? It is very likely they will, even while they are trying to remain objective, unbiased, and not discriminate against you or anyone else. 

I remember an entry-level candidate who actually listed the names and contact information of his references on his resume (personally I try to discourage candidates from doing this for a number of reasons, one being the oral board cannot call those people, two being that information will be asked for in a background investigation, three being that those names you list may actually be used against you). He listed a number of names, some of whom worked for our department, some of whom worked for neighboring departments or the ambulance company, but who I still knew or knew of. The problem I had with those names he listed. Not one, not two, but about five of those names were individuals who I didn’t fully respect or feel were credible enough to list as a reference for a variety of reasons, all of which were not positive. Some of those names I have had to discipline for work related performance (or lack thereof) or behavioral issues, and some of those names were not the most stellar of references I would suggest someone to list. People that were known and proud to have been “problem children” to their employer and/or supervisors, and people that were probably voted as their class clown during high school.

Now they may all have been great people to their friend or acquaintance who was listing them as a reference, but they are not helping the person because “birds of a feather flock together,” right? Guilty by association? Possibly. Now I will go on record that I didn’t unfairly discriminate against or show any bias towards this candidate during the oral interview because I was there to rate him on what he said, not what he had on his resume. He didn’t come across as a stellar candidate that would make a good fit for us at the time, and he was not able to sell himself or what he had to offer our great department. But, let’s say he scored high enough to make it to a fire chief’s interview. If you were the fire chief, and he started name dropping with names that always caused you problems and took up a lot of your staff’s time because of always being in trouble or not doing their job, would you want to hire this person? If their mentors or references were any indication on who this person is or will be, why would you even bother hiring this person? I think Gordon Graham says it best: “if it’s predictable, it’s preventable.”

Is there some truth to the statement, “the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree?” I think there is. I have heard of stories and have experienced first hand family members and friends who have been hired and have turned out to be just like the person they are related or friends with – both in a good way, and in a not-so-good way. Nepotism is not necessarily a bad thing if done for the right reasons – meaning you know what you’re getting and not just hiring someone because they are related to someone.

Don’t get me wrong; it is ok to mention that you became interested in the fire service because you had a family member or father in the fire service. I just don’t think it is a good idea to specifically name that person and/or the department they work or worked for. If an oral board member asks you for names, then so be it; you’ll have to deal with any consequences – let us hope they are positive consequences!

STEVE PRZIBOROWSKI, a Firehouse Contributing Editor, has over 20 years of fire service experience, currently serving as a deputy chief for the Santa Clara County Fire Department. He is also an instructor for the Fire Technology Program at Chabot College in Hayward, Calif., and is a former president of the Northern California Training Officers Association. Steve was named the 2008 California Fire Instructor of the Year. He has earned a master's degree in Emergency Services Administration, a bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice, and an associate's degree in Fire Technology. Steve has completed the Executive Fire Officer Program at the National Fire Academy, and received Chief Fire Officer Designation through the Commission on Professional Credentialing. He is a regular speaker and presenter at fire service events and conferences across the country and recently published three books: How to Excel at Fire Department Promotional ExamsReach for the Firefighter Badge, and  The Future Firefighter's Preparation Guide, all of which are available on his websites: and

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