HIRING PRACTICES

The Toledo Department of Fire and Rescue has selected firefighters the same way for more than 20 years now. Since 1974, we have been under a Federal Court judge’s mandate for hiring. The process is slow and arduous, but I believe that in the long run it helps us select qualified firefighters. Several months prior to the administering of the formal process, a captain and several officers and firefighters set up a recruiting office. This office is under the direction of a deputy chief and is staffed Monday through Friday. The recruiters visit schools, neighborhood groups, and other venues that might produce good candidates.

The testing process begins with a written exam administered by Civil Service. The test contains some general-knowledge questions; candidates are also asked fire department-related questions taken from study materials provided to all candidates.

After the test is scored, a band of candidates who performed relatively the same on the exam are put through an extensive background check conducted by the Toledo Police Department. It includes school history; criminal and traffic records; and contacts with previous employers, relatives, and friends. Numeric points are assessed; candidates still “in the running” are then given a physical exam. Candidates who successfully complete the physical exam are then put through a fire department-related physical fitness test.

After this process is complete, the chief of department is given a list of candidates from which he can select. He chooses the next recruit class.

Could the process be better? Almost all processes could be improved in some way, shape, or form. Currently, we assess only negative points during the background check–items like traffic tickets or a bad credit rating. It would be better if we could also give positive points for current firefighters, paramedics, and EMTs.

John (Skip) Coleman, deputy chief of training and EMS, Toledo (OH) Department of Fire and Rescue; author of Incident Management for the Street-Smart Fire Officer (Fire Engineering, 1997) and Managing Major Fires (Fire Engineering, 2000); editorial advisory board member of Fire Engineering; and member of the FDIC Educational Advisory Board.

Question: How does your department select new firefighters?

Ron Hiraki, assistant chief,
Seattle (WA) Fire Department

Response: Selecting good firefighters begins with a good recruiting program. Four years ago, the Seattle Fire Department appointed a full-time recruitment officer. Previously, recruiting was a part-time function of the fire officers assigned to the Personnel Division. The full-time recruitment officer was instrumental in building relationships with organizers of job fairs and community events. He solicited many firefighters and officers to donate their time to staff the department’s recruiting booth and talk with prospective firefighters.

Our current recruitment officer has maintained this program and searched for innovative ways to bring attention to the department’s members. One vehicle was a competitive, but fun, basketball game between the women of the Seattle Fire and Police Departments before a Seattle Storm (women’s professional basketball) game. A key strategy is to get people interested well before the test dates so that they are motivated, know the process, and can prepare mentally and physically for the testing.

The city’s personnel department conducts firefighter testing annually. It begins with a written test. Candidates who pass the written general-knowledge test advance to a structured oral exam/interview conducted by two firefighters and a lieutenant. The scores from the written test and the oral exam/interview are combined and used to create a list, published by the city’s Personnel Department. Following Civil Service Rules, the department receives the top names on the list for further screening.

The department conducts two recruit schools a year with an average of 20 recruits. Prior to each recruit school, the department coordinates further screening. This begins with the Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT), developed jointly by the International Association of Fire Fighters and the International Association of Fire Chiefs. This places the physical agility test closer to the start of each recruit school instead of during the annual entry test. The CPAT is a pass/fail test. Those who pass the CPAT advance to an interview by a fire captain. This interview is comprised of structured questions but also questions found on a standard job application form. A small group of fire captains is trained to interview and score the candidates. The top candidates advance in the process.

The next steps include a check of the candidate’s driving record, a general background investigation, and reference checks. Candidates are then scheduled for a psychological exam and a review by an independent qualified psychologist, who contracts with the department. This is followed by a thorough medical examination. These steps occur concurrently. Personnel specialists schedule and follow up on the results of up to 40 candidates for a class of 25 recruits.

The final step is an interview by two assistant chiefs, who ask several structured questions and also follow up on issues or questions that arise from the driving record, background, and reference checks. The assistant chiefs rank the candidates; job offers are made on the basis of that ranking.

The fire department has made several improvements in the process over the past few years. The most significant is the structured oral exam/interview following the written test. This step allows firefighters to help select future firefighters. The process is long and requires a great deal of staff time. However, this is considered an investment in the future of the Seattle Fire Department.

Leigh Hollins, battalion chief,
Cedar Hammock (FL) Fire Rescue

Response: Over the past 20 years, Cedar Hammock has used a variety of methods to select new firefighters. Approximately 10 years ago, our department became an all-career department. The methods discussed here apply to a new career firefighter coming on the job, which would be much different from bringing on a new volunteer firefighter because of the various requirements and Florida state laws. These requirements are outlined in detail in my “Recruit Training” response in Roundtable in the September 2001 issue.

Florida law allows employers to hire firefighters who are not state-certified as long as they become certified (360-hour minimum standards course) within one year of employment (F.S. 633.35). However, we have found that there is a sufficient pool of quality certified firefighters seeking em-ployment in our area, and we have not hired noncertified personnel in many years.

Our process begins with a set application period. Applications are accepted only during this period. In preparation for this period, we place an ad in the local newspapers and on our Web site and post notices at our stations, at the fire academies in the region, and at the vocational schools. We use a commercially available written application that complies with the various state and federal regulations.

The next step is to administer a written test, a commercial product developed specifically for firefighter applicants. It contains questions that evaluate the various mental skills required of firefighters. Applicants cannot fail the test. The personnel charged with overseeing the process evaluate the scores.

Next is the agility assessment. Participants are required to have a medical clearance by a physician before participating in the assessment. The agility assessment consists of a series of job-related tasks performed in sequence, in full bunker gear, and while breathing from an SCBA. These tasks include ascending and descending stairs with a hose pack, pulling equipment up multiple stories with a rope, striking an object with a sledgehammer, advancing a charged hoseline, and dragging a weighted dummy a certain distance. Again, there is no failing time. Personnel overseeing the hiring process evaluate the times.

On completion of these steps, a hiring list is developed. Other factors include educational background, certifications, military experience, and fire/EMS-related experience.

During our 2001 hiring process, we combined forces with other area departments by using the same application period and application form and jointly running the written exam and agility assessment. Applicants could choose to apply to one department or all departments. This approach proved beneficial to the applicants and the fire departments.

From this point, we evaluate the applicants by looking at their test scores and reviewing their applications and submitted paperwork such as resumes, certifications, and the like. We select several candidates and arrange for an initial interview to get a “feel” for them.

After we have determined that an applicant has met all the criteria for employment and would make a good employee, we make a “tentative job offer,” offering the job under the condition that the candidate pass the final set of criteria. These criteria include a criminal history check, a driver license and driver history check, a background employment check, a personal reference check, a drug screening, and a physical examination that meets the state of Florida firefighter physical requirements.

If the candidate’s final criteria check results are acceptable, we set a start date. The “employee” is then placed in our “firefighter orientation program” and is indoctrinated in the basics of what is expected and is given a “blueprint” for the first three years on the job. It’s that simple!

Bob Oliphant, lieutenant,
Kalamazoo (MI) Department of Public Safety

Response: Our hiring process begins with a general employment application, which obtains basic background information appropriate for the preliminary selection of potential public safety candidates. Education level, personal history, and other qualities the department desires are considered. Applicants who appear suitable for employment are invited to take a written test.

The written test evaluates job aptitude and behavioral traits. Knowledge, skills, and abilities that fit the job are important but are not enough in an occupation that involves the public trust. Just as important are personal values and traits that demonstrate honesty, integrity, and ethics. Applicants who pass the written test must then complete the agility test, which evaluates their ability to perform basic fireground tasks in full turnout gear.

After the preliminary testing, the applicants undergo an oral interview, conducted by a panel of supervisors and peers with whom the candidate would be working. The candidates are questioned about the information they provided on their employment application to further evaluate their job qualifications, personal history, and desire to do the job.

Applicants who successfully complete the oral interview are asked to complete a comprehensive background questionnaire, which is given to an investigator. The investigator checks family, friends, employers, educational institutions, financial institutions, licensing authorities, and law enforcement agencies. This stage of the process is the most rigorous and revealing; it is probably the biggest improvement the department has made in the hiring process over the years. Departments that do not conduct a comprehensive background investigation are inviting problems.

Applicants who pass the background investigation are then invited back for another oral interview. The second interview is more structured and includes interactive questioning between the candidate and interview panel, to place the candidate under stress. Candidates are scored on their responses. Those with the highest scores after the interview are given a conditional offer of employment, contingent on the candidate’s passing a medical exam, a drug screening, and a psychological interview.

Our hiring process has evolved and improved over a period of years and is still undergoing changes. The process may seem more complex than necessary, but the long-term benefits of an ethical, skilled, and dedicated workforce are worth it.

Steve Kreis, assistant chief,
Phoenix (AZ) Fire Department

Response: Currently, our department uses a three-tier evaluation system to determine the characteristics, values, and talents of our future members. The goal of this detailed process is to hire new members who will be able to perform the critical and essential functions of a successful Phoenix firefighter. The three-tier approach consists of a written test, a Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT), and an oral two-interview process.

The written test consists of 100 multiple-choice questions designed to measure the candidates’ knowledge of a “Candidate Booklet” (provided to each applicant), the ability to read and comprehend short written passages and to perform basic math. Candidates are ranked according to their written test score. The City of Phoenix Personnel Department statistically determines a passing mark; those with a passing score move on in the testing process. If a candidate passes the written test and the CPAT, the written test score determines when an oral interview will be conducted. The written test score also serves as a tiebreaker if two or more candidates have the same oral interview score.

The CPAT, a nationally recognized test developed by the IAFF and the IAFC and endorsed by the Justice Department, is designed to measure the candidate’s minimal physical ability to perform as a recruit firefighter. It is a pass/fail test that must be completed in 10 minutes and 20 seconds. The CPAT consists of eight events that simulate actual tasks that must be completed on the fireground. The test, like the job, requires a high level of aerobic and anaerobic fitness as well as significant muscular strength and endurance.

The final portion of the evaluation process consists of two oral interviews. All qualified applicants will eventually be interviewed over the life of the “list.” In essence, every qualified applicant will get an entry interview. Candidates successful in the entry interview process get a second interview and eventually are placed on a hiring list. Selection of a recruit firefighter is based on the number of positions available and the candidate’s position on the hiring list.

Representatives of the department’s management, Local 493, and the City of Phoenix Personnel Department serve as members of the oral interview panel. Although this is a very labor-intensive selection process, it has served the department very well. We strongly feel that a significant investment on the front end of the hiring process allows the department to hire the highest quality candidate in the beginning, thus making it much more effective in the long run.

Joseph Floyd, assistant chief,
Columbia (SC) Fire Department

Response: The Columbia Fire Department has a four-part process. Each phase is designed to measure potential firefighters’ abilities. The physical ability test is the first phase and is designed to measure a person’s strength and ability to perform physical skills pertaining to firefighting. The candidate must pass this test.

The applicant then is eligible to move onto the written test, which provides objective information that enables the department to determine if a person has the abilities to learn a specific job, solve problems, understand instructions, and apply knowledge to new situations. This has become increasingly important considering that today’s fire service has become a highly technical profession. Priority should be given to the best and brightest candidates.

After taking the written test, the applicant moves on to the “Structured Oral Interview.” Applicants sit before a group of trained assessors and are asked a series of questions designed to measure seven dimensions: judgment/decision-making ability, interpersonal relations, oral communication skill, personal commitment, stress tolerance, and honesty and demeanor. Applicants are scored on each dimension and given an overall score.

In the final selection process, the department considers all the information that has been collected and begins to narrow the list down to the best candidates.

These candidates are offered an interview, and the final list of candidates is developed. Candidates offered employment undergo a background investigation, a medical investigation, and a drug screening. Once in the department, the new employee is required to participate in and successfully meet the requirements and standards affixed to each training program. The new firefighter will be expected to successfully complete a 10- to 11-week training program or lose the job.

Frank C. Schaper, chief,
St. Charles (MO) Fire Department

Response: The St. Charles (MO) Fire Department advertises in local newspapers and on our Web site. We send fliers to all local academies and state training agencies. We look for candidates with Firefighter I and II certifications and a valid paramedic license. Our personnel department collects the applications.

Personnel work with our assistant chief of training to schedule a Saturday for testing. Successful applicants are invited to test. The written test is given in the morning. Applicants who pass the written test are invited to take the physical performance test that afternoon. Candidates who pass the written and physical performance tests are placed on an open list, from which I can select any candidate for an interview. Candidates listing references who already work in our department have an advantage. We are also working on a program for soliciting input from the union local when selecting new hires.

Candidates who score well on the interview are instructed to undergo a police records check and a drug and alcohol test. Candidates with good records and negative drug and alcohol tests are scheduled for a physical exam. Those passing the physical exam are given a written paramedic exam and practice.

Candidates passing the medic test are hired. Since the applicants hired are experienced, generally from other fire departments, we put them on the track immediately. However, we are in the process of setting up an orientation program and evaluation system for new hires.

We test once a year. There are approximately 50 applicants, of which about 30 are keepers. We have one or two open positions a year.

Larry Anderson, deputy chief,
Dallas (TX) Fire-Rescue

Response: Our recruiting unit is headed by a captain who uses three full-time recruiters to search for and attract qualified applicants. Having a pool of applicants who reflect our community’s cultural diversity is important, but it is imperative that those applicants be the high-caliber people we need. Applicants for firefighter/paramedic are required to have a minimum of 45 semester hours of college; applicants for fire inspector must have a minimum of 60 semester hours.

The applicants begin the process by taking a civil service test (the city of Dallas has its own Civil Service Department). Once the applicant has satisfied the minimum score requirement on the civil service test, a background search is initiated and a polygraph examination is scheduled. Successful candidates then undergo the physical ability test to determine their physical strength and endurance. Candidates who have been successful in all aspects of the aforementioned process are scheduled for an employment interview. The interview panel consists of one assistant chief and two deputy chiefs. The same three individuals interview all the applicants. The interview panel ranks the applicants and offers employment in the order of their ranking. Attracting and maintaining quality personnel have always been challenges, but we are fortunate that the firefighting profession attracts some of the best people in the world.

Rick Lasky, chief,
Lewisville (TX) Fire Department

Response: We have found the area surrounding our city to be extremely competitive when it comes to hiring paid firefighters. Up until some of the recent revenue shortfalls that have necessitated that some cities hold off on filling vacancies or new positions, the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex had been very active in recruiting new firefighters and, at times, has made it difficult for candidates to choose between one department and another. Lewisville used two candidate pools. Depending on our needs, we will conduct a “General Hire” process in which candidates will need no prior certifications, or we will conduct a “Certified Hire” process, in which applicants must be certified as a Basic Firefighter with the Texas Commission on Fire Protection; a paramedic is preferred.

Our process is handled in the following manner:

  • We post for four to six weeks an announcement that we are creating an eligibility list and are accepting applications.
  • Completed applications must be submitted by the established deadline. At the time the completed application is submitted, candidates are given a study guide for the written examination, which will take place in six weeks.
  • The candidates are then given a written examination that requires a 70 percent or higher passing grade.
  • Candidates passing the written test participate in the physical ability process, which is a pass/fail-graded event.
  • Those passing the physical ability test are given the “B-pad” examination, which looks at the candidates’ interpersonal skills and reactions in various situations and scenarios. A passing grade in this phase is 24; a score higher than 32 is considered the optimum score. The candidates are ranked by their scores.
  • At this point, those still in the process are sent for a polygraph examination, and a background check is conducted.
  • Candidates from this pool are given an interview. If a vacancy must be filled, the successful applicant is given a conditional job offer.
  • After the conditional job offer is made and accepted, the candidate is sent to a doctor for a physical examination, a drug test, and a psychological test.

This concludes the initial hiring process. We have been extremely successful with this process and have hired some very talented and dedicated people. We have all tried to keep in mind that years ago we had said we hoped that some day we would be able to have a say about whom we hire and that we would make sure that we hired someone who will take care of things and love this job–someone with pride, honor, and integrity. So far, this process has helped us to meet that goal.

Craig A. Haigh, chief,
King (NC) Fire Department

Response: Our department is a small combination department located in the Piedmont Triad section of North Carolina. We serve a population of 22,500 permanent residents. Because of our combination status, we do not have the luxury of hiring firefighters with little to no experience; we staff with a minimal level of career employees. Based on this, we have developed a testing process for new recruits that measures their overall fire service knowledge base as well as their physical condition and ability to perform in simulated situations.

On completion of the application process, each candidate is provided with a study packet describing the testing process and a reference/reading list of texts and study materials. Applicants are encouraged to use the department’s research/reference library, and the training staff makes formal preparation classes available for interested candidates. We also encourage “ride-alongs” for applicants who are not familiar with the department and its operational procedures.

Testing begins with a 150-question (182 points) multiple-choice/fill-in-the-blank written exam that measures the candidates’ knowledge in the areas of fire, EMS, haz mat, and rescue. Once completed, the candidates begin the agility test, which measures their overall physical conditioning and ability to perform job-related tasks. Each test station has points and time standards assigned; the candidates’ performance is measured. The testing consists of the following:

  • A measurement of the applicant’s weight, blood pressure, and pulse (no points assigned).
  • A one-mile run.
  • An 85-foot aerial ladder climb while wearing a bunker coat and an SCBA (no facepiece is used, and no time limit is assigned; the climb is pass/fail).
  • A specified number of push-ups and sit-ups completed in two minutes.
  • Simulated Smoke Maze–the candidate is required to follow a rope through a maze while wearing a blacked-out SCBA facepiece (the candidate is not breathing air from the SCBA), bunker coat, helmet, and gloves; this test is pass/fail.
  • A mandatory 15-minute rehab/fluid replacement period.
  • Operational Circuit (completed over six minutes while wearing a bunker coat, helmet, gloves, and SCBA without facepiece);

  1. fully open and close a hydrant;
  2. 150;pull a simulated 28-foot ladder halyard;
  3. strike a wood block 25 times with a nine-pound splitting maul;
  4. stretch 100 feet of a charged 13/4-inch line and flow it for 30 seconds; and
  5. climb a ladder to the third floor of the drill tower, enter the window, complete a 360° sweep of the floor, and exit the window, climbing back down the ladder.

  • Hang a standard electric smoke ejector on a doorway jack.
  • Pull a 150-pound rescue manikin 100 feet.

Agility test times and standards were established by random testing of existing career and volunteer personnel ranging in age from youngest to oldest members as well as several civilians of various ages.

The points from the written and agility tests are calculated; then cuts are made. Applicants with the best scores are invited back to complete a six-station assessment center. Instructions and information on the centers are provided; the candidates are given at least three weeks to prepare for the assessment center stations. Just as before, candidates have full access to all reference materials maintained in our library. The stations are as follows:

  1. Oral Visual: Candidates are given a poster board and marker and are allowed 30 minutes to construct a visual display of their qualifications and reasons for wanting to be a City of King career firefighter. After this task is completed, each applicant goes before a panel of evaluators for 15 minutes and is asked questions about the presentation.
  2. Teaching: Since career firefighters are required to assist with the department’s training program, candidates are asked to prepare a 30-minute class and present it to the evaluators.
  3. EMS: Candidates are given a simulated EMS scenario complete with victims and moulage and are scored based on their performance.
  4. Panel Discussion: Candidates are verbally given a series of fire-based scenarios ranging from forcible entry to ventilation to fire attack and are evaluated according to their responses.
  5. Citizen Confrontation: Candidates are given a role-play scenario where they are asked to interact with a citizen regarding a fire service inspection or citizen complaint.
  6. Creative Writing: Candidates are allowed to choose from a variety of fire service topics and are given two hours to conduct research and write an executive summary report on the topic. This station is used to evaluate the candidate’s ability to communicate through the written word, conduct research, and write a report–all skills commonly used by King firefighters.

The scores from the assessment center are calculated and added to the scores from the written and agility tests. The top-scoring applicants are invited to a final interview with the department’s chief officers and city executives. Points are again assigned and a total score calculated. These candidates are then placed on an eligibility list ranked by their scores, from which they are subsequently hired to fill vacancies. Once hired, new employees must complete a 109-hour rookie school specific to operations at the King Fire Department before they are assigned to a shift.

All full-time career firefighters are also required to graduate from an accredited fire academy program with certification as an IFSAC Firefighter II before being released from probation. Training is completed before the hiring is accepted, or the department sponsors the employee while attending an academy.

David B. Fulmer, chief,
Fitchburg (WI) Fire Department

Response: As the chief of a combination department, I find myself in a unique situation regarding the hiring of part-time and paid on-call firefighters.

As a firm believer in team building and task teams for projects, our department uses a hiring committee that represents the department in every aspect. The committee is comprised of the fire chief, a part-time officer, a full-time firefighter, a part-time firefighter, and an intern firefighter.

This allows a broad-based committee with equal representation to partake in the hiring process for part-time and paid on-call firefighters. Although this process has been successful in identifying qualified applicants, we intend to have this process evolve into an entry-level assessment center. Similar departments, such as the King (NC) Volunteer Fire Department, have successfully used this process. The assessment center facilitates a comprehensive process that evaluates the basic skills necessary for today’s recruit firefighter.

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