Stepping Up: Preparing Your Resume Material

by Ron Hiraki

At some time, you will be asked to present your resume. This may be for selection to an assignment, part of the promotional process, or an interview by the fire chief. The resume may be presented orally or on paper. Most people keep a current resume. There are hundreds of books on writing resumes with instructions, tips, and sample formats. In addition to acquiring and developing the knowledge, skills, abilities, traits, and experiences you need qualify for the job, you also need to be able to communicate why those qualities are important to the job, the audience, and ultimately the people you will serve.

A good resume tells what you have done and when you did it. A great resume tells the audience why it is important to them. Writing your resume is a good time to step up, realize your valuable asset you are. Following are the five common sections of a resume and some tips for preparing your resume material.

Work Experience

In addition to listing the dates, name of the employer or assignment, and the job title, consider giving a brief description of the work performed or experienced gained. If you worked at a fast-food hamburger store, working at the front counter shows you can fill orders quickly and correctly, be accountable for money, and have customer service skills. In addition to stating that you worked on an engine company or a ladder company, describe the service area. Was it mostly residential, high density, commercial, high-rise, or industrial? Preplanning and response to different types of structures and occupancies give you additional knowledge and experience. If you perform fire code enforcement inspections, you have something particular to offer.

Make a file, and note things you have learned from these preplanning tours, responses, and inspections. If permissible, make copies of preincident plans you created, site diagrams, or inspection reports. They will “jog” your memory when you create your resume.

Formal Education

In addition to high-school and accredited college-degree programs; you should include trade schools and military schools or training programs in this section. Most people would place the National Fire Academy (NFA) Executive Fire Officer (EFO) here because it is a multiyear comprehensive program. An Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) course taken at a community college (even for credit), or single courses taken at the NFA might be better placed under other training.

Don’t disguise the fact that you are working on your degree. Some people do this by listing the name of the degree and a graduation date that is two years in the future. Be proud that you are working on your degree. Even if you just started, that’s a big step forward many people never take. Working on your degree when you have a full-time job and family obligations is admirable. This clearly demonstrates commitment.

Be sure to describe course work that is most applicable to the job for which you are applying. College course names and numbers may not be clear and are unnecessary. Briefly describe what you studied and learned, and how it will help you do a better job.

Other Certifications and Training

This section tends to be the most fun and yet most challenging to write. Here, you get to write about job-specific training. The challenge comes in trying to remember all of that training. Many firefighters keep a file of certificates from these classes. Some firefighters put them in sheet protectors in a nice notebook, so the certificates can be photocopied or displayed. Most resume reviewers will not flip through and study a pile of certificates. Frequently, resumes are photocopied for each reviewer; this can be quite a chore for the administrative assistant. Your best bet is to include a concise list on your resume. If the class is not standard in the industry [e.g., EMT, Insurance Services Office [ISO], or Managing Company Tactical Operations [MCTO]), include a brief description. 

Make a file to save a syllabus/agenda from each class. Immediately after each class, write three things that you learned from the class. You will be better prepared to add that information to your resume. You have probably heard other students say, “I’ve heard some of that before, but I picked up a few new points.” What are those new points? How will you use them? Can you share them with fellow firefighters?

Special Projects or Other Experience

This section is very important, especially for an “in-house” promotional process. List and describe committees or special projects on which you have worked. Serving as the chairperson demonstrates your ability to bring people together, organize, and get the work done. Serving on an apparatus committee shows your knowledge of standards and specifications. It also demonstrates your ability to take input from other firefighters, and justify optional features. If you served as a union leader, describe your role and experience. Many union leaders do extremely well in promotional processes or fire department leadership roles because they have had to gather input, prioritize, justify actions, and also say “no.” This, in addition to their knowledge of procedures and the corrective action process, builds a strong resume. 

Other Activities

This is an optional section that may include volunteer, community service, or church activities. Much training and experience are obtained from serving on a committee at the Red Cross, Parent-Teacher-Student Association, etc. As with special projects, describe your role and accomplishments. Often, this section simply provides some human interest and makes you memorable.

Firefighters often ask why the chief wants a resume. They say, “The chief knows me and has reviewed my personnel file.” I know one fire chief who, although he is familiar with the firefighters, hopes that producing a resume will cause the firefighters to think about what they have accomplished.

If you need to create a new resume, begin an electronic resume. Organize your first draft with common sections, correct dates, titles, etc. Then, “go with the flow.” Write what you want to remember. Think of it like a diary. Then, when it comes time to put together a final draft, cut and paste the prepared material that is applicable to the job; edit, and format that material to suit your audience.

Ron Hiraki began his career as a firefighter in the Seattle (WA) Fire Department, working in a variety of operational and administrative positions leading to his final assignment as assistant chief of employee development. Completing his career as an assistant chief for a small combination fire department, Hiraki has nearly 30 years of fire service experience in urban and suburban settings. He has a master of science degree in human resources development and is a consultant to number of public safety agencies for their selection and performance evaluation programs.


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