Building the Unbreakable Future Firefighter
“If you quit you will regret it for the rest of your life. Quitting never makes things easier.” – Admiral William H. McRaven
Our guest was supposed to be Ryan Pennington from Jumpseat Training LLC. However, Ryan had a last minute schedule change and he is teaching a firefighter safety and survival course during the recording of this show. I will look forward to the opportunity of welcoming Ryan back on the show in the future. I would like to congratulate Ryan’s son and nephew for recently receiving their career positions in the fire service. Talking with Ryan over the last few months regarding mentoring his son and nephew through their hiring process has been a rewarding experience.
ENTRY LEVEL FIREFIGHTER HIRING PROCESS
“The hiring process is like running a marathon, it is not a sprint. It is more like sprinting a marathon.” – Christopher Baker
During this episode, we're going to cover the application phase of the entry-level future firefighter recruitment process and how to be an unbreakable candidate, as you progress through the hiring process. Topics will include the entry-level firefighter application process, resume and cover letter, physical agility test including the CPAT, the written exam, the panel interview and the background process including the medical examination.
I would like to start the show off with a statement “don't give up!” As you progress through the application process you have to remember this throughout the process and this process requires a certain level of endurance. Typically on average, the candidate will take about 4 to 4 1/2 years to receive a permanent career position in the fire service. Speaking from my own experience that is about what it took me to receive my dream career position in the fire service. Please don't give up, keep going through the application process and fill out every application. Print out the job description and the minimum requirements and make sure that you meet those minimum requirements to apply for those positions. Review the job description and study the knowledge skills and abilities (KSA’s) that are required for each position. In order to receive the position of a future firefighter, you have to first apply and it is a lengthy process. Most entry-level firefighter applications currently are online and there are several websites to apply for these positions:
The days of filling out applications on paper are obsolete and now several agencies have utilized technology to expedite their application process. One helpful tip is to save your information in a word document and you can cut/paste this information into these online career websites when you are creating your profile. Review the job announcement and job description specifically the information related to the job performance review standards (JPR’s) and the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSA’s) for each position. Only apply for positions that you meet the minimum requirements in the job announcement. If you have any doubts and or questions, contact the hiring official for each specific agency to clarify these questions regarding the minimum requirements. Make sure you have a keen eye for attention to detail. Several of these items are highlighted in both the job announcement and the specific job description for each position. Remember this is a test and the test is simple; can you follow written directions. If you want this highly desirable position in the fire service you have to first apply.
RESUME / COVER LETTER
The next phase of the process is the resume and the cover letter. Make sure your resume and cover letter match the agency and application you are submitting with your online application. All of these documents should resemble each other. Have someone proofread each of these documents and or schedule an appointment with a tutor. It is ok to receive help and seeking out a tutor to assist you in this process. There is no shame in asking for help. Visit your local community college, library or tutoring center for assistance. Several of these options are at no cost to you as an applicant. Take advantage of these free services. My recommendation is to have at least five people proofread your resume and cover letter. Follow directions in the job description and the job announcement; clarify if a resume and a cover letter are required for each application. If it is required please make sure and review how to electronically attach these documents to your online application. Remember the days of completing paper applications are now obsolete and you have to submit these documents electronically. Review how to format an adobe pdf file and learn how to save these files in a smaller file size format. Most agencies allow one single document under two megabytes or less. Review the job announcement and follow directions. Several certifications might be required for each job posting. You will have to learn how to save up to ten documents in one single Adobe pdf file. If you fail to submit the required documents with your online application, your application will be removed from the hiring process.
The job market is really competitive out there in the fire service. Recently, I noticed an agency was only accepting the first 1,000 applications. When the agency received their first 1,000 applications, the job posting closed in less than five minutes. You need to have all of these items uploaded to your online profile through these various career websites before the job posting is open to the public. Preparation is everything. Include your work history on your resume. Most agencies require ten years of work history. Include your education and I highly recommend attending a local community college during your time on the testing circuit. Include your volunteer experience and community service on your resume. I highly encourage you to volunteer at your local fire department during your time on the testing circuit. Include your certifications that are applicable to the job announcement and or job description. Make sure you have the best contact information on your resume with the best number to reach you in case they need to call you and offer you the job.
PHYSICAL AGILITY / CPAT:
Several agencies are now utilizing the Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT) and this is a great tool for a lot of these agencies. Previously agencies conducted their own physical ability courses and for a lot of these Cities and agencies, it was expensive to put on their own physical ability course. I have completed the CPAT a total of nine times since 2009. Remember, you have to prepare for the CPAT. Again this whole process is a test and this part of the process is the physical test and this is something that you have to prepare for in order to pass this test. I highly encourage you to go to the CPAT website and review the video before you sign up to take the test. I highly encourage you to attend the practice test before you complete your CPAT test. This practice test is beneficial for somebody that has never completed the test before. There are several areas a candidate could fail their CPAT test. Attend the orientation and ask questions from the CPAT proctors on how you can successfully complete this test. Remember this is a test. You need to follow simple directions and perform the CPAT to their standards. You will receive several warnings before you fail the test. However, review the video and prepare to pass the test.
There are several fire service related groups and organizations that can assist you in preparing for the physical ability course such as Firefighter Functional Fitness with Jim Moss and Chief Dan Kerrigan, Fit to Fight Fire with John Spera and 555 Fitness with Robert “Pip” Piparo. Follow these groups as you prepare to complete the physical ability test. These groups share the important message of firefighter physical fitness. This profession is very demanding physically and you have to make a commitment to your own physical fitness. This is very important to your own health and safety throughout your career in the fire service. Several agencies in Southern California utilize the Biddle physical agility test. The USFS/BLM utilize the pack test (Work Capacity Test for Wildland Firefighters) ensuring wildland firefighter safety. Several agencies also have their own unique physical ability course. These agencies might require the CPAT for their application process and they could also host their own physical ability course for you to complete during their onboarding process.
I have tutored several candidates for their entry-level firefighter written test over the last eight years. Most agencies require a 70% - 80% score to be placed on their hiring eligibility list. Please note there are also several agencies that only select the top scores to advance in their process and those scores are in the 90 percentile. You ultimately want to score the highest score you can accomplish on these written exams. Don’t get comfortable at achieving the passing score. In order to be placed on the eligibility list, you need to receive the highest score possible. Enroll in a basic math class at your local community college. Ask for help with tutoring in the learning resources center at your local community college. There are several tutoring options that are available for assistance with basic math skills. There are also several options that are available for mechanical aptitude tutoring as well. Research the Internet and you will discover these websites that will assist you with gears and pulleys. Learn how to calculate mechanical leverage with the application of fulcrums. Learn how bicycle gears work on a 10-speed. Learn how the drive gears work and the rotation of these gears (Left or Right). Learn how pulleys work with lifting a weight.
Learn how to perform quick math and work math problems both forwards and backward. Learn how to perform conversions in your head with the use of simple conversion formulas. Review decimals and fractions. Review basic multiplication and division. Review how to convert liters to gallons. Review how to calculate miles per hour and distance traveled equations/formulas. It is totally acceptable to ask for help and request the assistance of a math tutor. I have tutored several hundred firefighter candidates in the past and I have achieved a high success rate on assisting these candidates to pass the entry-level firefighter written exam.
I highly recommend spending approximately 40 hours of preparation time on the initial panel interview. Again, preparation is everything. If applicable and appropriate; schedule station visits. However, read the job announcement and follow directions. Most agencies will not allow station visits during their application process; again you have to follow simple directions. It is very important to know pertinent information about the agency you are applying for and the community that the agency serves. Learn the mission, vision and core values of the agency. Read the strategic plan and how this relates to the future growth of the agency in that community. Learn the mutual aid agencies that are requested on a multiple alarm assignment. Learn about the mutual threat zone (MTZ) within their response area. Learn what the target hazards are inside their response area. Learn the alarm matrix with assignments.
Not everything is on the Internet. You can’t Google everything in preparation for the entry-level panel interview. It is imperative to live in that community in order to learn what is important in that local community and those agencies that respond to calls within that specific response area. The best advice I can offer you is if you want to receive a position in that area as a firefighter you need to relocate to that area. Live in that area, go to school in that area, and sign up to become a volunteer firefighter in that area. You must become familiar with that agency from an insiders perspective instead of an outsider's external perspective. Remember every day is an interview in the fire service. You might receive a seasonal position working for a neighboring agency that has direct contact with the members in the agency you want to work for in the future. This is the best exposure for you to learn the members of the agency you want to pursue full-time employment.
Don't just memorize the information you find online. Learn what is unique about the core values of the agency. Anybody can come into an interview and be a Memorex tape player during an interview. Don’t be a robot during the interview process. I've been on interview panels in the past and after approximately 100 applicants through a long process; all the robots sound familiar and they all blend together. Members of the interview panels are looking for those candidates that stand out. The best advice I can offer you is to stand out during the interview process. At the end of the interview process, you want the panel to remember you. Bring something unique to your interview and bring something that you can share about yourself in order to stand out from the crowd.
BACKGROUND / MEDICAL PROCESS:
The best advice I can offer you is, to be honest, straightforward and transparent throughout the hiring process. Remember it is a test. Every step in the process is a test. If you have any questions regarding your background, contact the hiring official and ask them specific questions regarding your background. It is very important to follow directions. You will have only one opportunity to disclose information regarding your background. You will have an initial interview with your background investigator. During this interview make sure you're transparent. Be honest and straightforward; share all the pertinent information regarding your background. Most applicants are not successful during the background process because they are not being honest. Honesty and integrity are core values of the fire service. Public servants are held to higher standards and we do not violate the public’s trust.
Consult with your family physician regarding your previous medical history prior to the background process. Have all the dates of your previous hospitalizations, major accidents, and broken bones/injuries. If you need to clarify anything regarding your medical history consult with your family physician.
- Lack of honesty and integrity during the hiring process.
- Not following simple directions described in the job announcement.
- Failing to submit the required paperwork in the appropriate time frame.
- Lack of preparation during any step of the hiring process.
- Failing to sign their application.
- Failing to dress for success during the interview process.
- Have a support system.
- Preparation is the key to success.
- It is only a failure if you don’t learn from it.
- In order to receive this highly desirable position in the fire service, you have to apply.
Top 10 things to do that increase your odds of getting a job. (Not in any specific order).
- Prepare for every step of the hiring process.
- Become a volunteer firefighter and get involved with community service.
- Enroll in a local community college fire technology program and earn an AS degree in Fire Technology.
- Complete the CPAT every 6-12 months.
- Make a strategic plan on how you are going to receive this position.
- Find a mentor and ask them to hold you accountable to your above-mentioned strategic plan.
- Complete an EMT program and receive your NREMT Certification.
- Stay Positive.
- APPLY, APPLY, AND APPLY.
- Complete every entry-level firefighter written test that you can.
“No one is going to hold your hand through the hiring process to become a career firefighter, you have to hold yourself accountable and have your own personal leadership.” – Christopher Baker
Remember this throughout the entry-level hiring process: “Don’t give up!” Stay Positive! Keep every rejection letter and one day you will receive a job offer to place on top of those rejection letters. If you really want this position in the fire service, you will put the work in to achieve it. If it were easy, everyone would be a firefighter. Please feel free to contact me if you need any help along your journey in becoming a future firefighter. You can reach me with the contact information below:
Chris Baker, has over twelve years of experience in volunteer, combination, and career, fire departments in California. He holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Anthropology and Associates of Science Degree in Fire Service Command, Company Officer. Chris is a California State Fire Training certified Fire Officer, Driver-Operator, Fire Instructor, and Lead Firefighter I Certification Evaluator. He is a Fire Science Instructor in the California Community Colleges System. Chris is a member of the California Fire Technology Directors’ Association and the California Training Officers Association. He served as a volunteer Peer Reviewer on the FY 2017 Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response Grants (SAFER) for both hiring and recruitment/retention. Chris also served as a Peer Reviewer on the FY 2017/2018 Assistance to Firefighters Grants (AFG). He is a Volunteer Advocate Regional Manager, Region IX (CA, NV, AZ, HI) for the Everyone Goes Home Program through the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. Chris also serves as a volunteer member of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) Safety, Health and Survival Section serving in their staging area. He is a member of the Board of Directors for the National Fire Heritage Center located in Emmitsburg, Maryland. Chris is a National Fire Service Instructor teaching at notable fire conferences across the country. He is the co-host the Fire Engineering: The Future Fighter Podcast. Chris writes blog articles for Firefighter Nation, Fire Rescue and Fire Engineering Magazines on mentoring the future generations of the fire service.