Selecting the Right Men for Fire-Figliting Work

Selecting the Right Men for Fire-Figliting Work

Suggested Civil Serviee Tests for Choosing Best Type of Men for Fire Departments-Mental as Well as Physical Perfection Needed

THE following article will be found of great help to chiefs of fire departments and to civil service boards of cities in the proper selection of the personnel of the fire department. It is full of good suggestions as to the best methods of conducting examinations and the allotting of the proper weights in such tests:

Civil service administrators apparently have been more successful in recruiting men for the uniformed fire-fighting force than for the uniformed police force. This holds whether success is measured by the opinions of the civil service administrators themselves, by the judgment of the administrative officers in the fire and police departments, by the attitude of civic organizations interested in fire and police problems, by the esprit de corps maintained, or by the degree of satisfaction felt by the general public. A considerable part of this greater success undoubtedly may be attributed to the fact that firefighting problems are by no means as complex as police problems. The fire-fighting force deals with the public only to a slight extent, does not have to enforce unpopular laws and ordinances, is not subject to the insidiously demoralizing influences which often undermine a police force, and is in a highly strategic position to capitalize the good will which ought to accrue when a difficult duty is well performed.

Nevertheless it should not be assumed that the problem of selecting recruits for the uniformed fire force has been completely solved. Civil service administrators have very clearly perceived that they ought to secure men of good physical attainments. In general, however, they appear to have placed greater emphasis on mere size than is justified. Nor have they always been clear as to the mental traits desired. A careful examination of the mental tests in use shows that in essence they consist of attempts to get at the intelligence of competitors without a very clear conception as to the best means of attacking this problem or of determining the intelligence levels desired. There appears to be room for improvement in the mental tests as to both content and technique.

Duties and Qualifications of Fire-Fighter

The duties of fire-fighters vary somewhat in different cities or in different stations in the same city owing to variations in the form of organization and in the kind of fire-fighting equipment in use. The duties and the qualifications which are necessary for their proper performance may, however, be stated as follows:

Duties: Under immediate supervision, during the hours on duty to attend fires to which the company responds and assist as directed in the saving of lives and property and in extinguishing fires; to assist in taking care of apparatus, horses, quarters, and equipment; to participate in drills and other training work; and to perform related work as required.

“It should not be assumed that the problem of selecting recruits for the uniformed fire force has been completely solved. Civil service administrators have very clearly perceived that they ought to secure men of good physical attainments. They appear to have placed greater emphasis on mere size than is justified. Nor have they always been clear as to the mental traits desired. There appears to be room for improvement in the mental tests as to both content and technique.”

Example of typical tasks: Placing ladders; operating hose; guiding a fire truck on the streets from the rear seat; operating hand chemical apparatus; assisting in saving lives; doing salvage work at fires or after fires are extinguished; acting as driver or chauffeur for a horse-drawn or motor-operated piece of fire apparatus; cleaning windows and floors; polishing bright work; washing wagon; drying hose and drying and cleaning covers; taking care of horses; making adjustments and minor repairs to harness; doing floor duty during an assigned portion of the day or night; connecting and disconnecting hose and turning water on and off; giving instructions to owners and occupants of buildings in the district as to fire hazards and fire prevention and making reports as to bad conditions.

Minimum qualifications: Ability to read and write and preferably common school education; intelligence equal to or greater than that indicated by a score of 55 in the army alpha intelligence tests; ability to comprehend and carry out instructions; courage; good physical condition; strength; agility; height not less than 66 inches; weight not less than 130 pounds and properly proportioned to height (for details see the table given under “Suggested Preliminary Requirements” on page 1375); chest mobility not less than 2 inches; age not less than 21 and not more than 29 years.

Desirable additional qualifications: High school training; intelligence greater than that indicated by a score of 75 in the army alpha intelligence tests; ability to get along well with people with whom close contact must be maintained for long periods; knowledge of fire-fighting equipment and methods.

It will be noted that as the term fire-fighter is used in this article it includes the men assigned to the hook and ladder wagon, to the hose wagon, to the chemical apparatus, or to driving a piece of fire apparatus; it does not, however, include the man who operates a fire engine used for pumping purposes. Of course no one fire-fighter at any given time will perform all the duties listed above. The average salary for fire-fighters in the larger American cities is about $1,800; in a few cities the salary is markedly lower but in others the maximum rate is $2,000 or even $2,500.

Factors Governing the Selection of Tests for Fire-Fighter

If it may be assumed that the duties of a fire-fighter are correctly given above and that the required and desirable qualifications are correctly stated, the main considerations which govern in choosing tests to select qualified incumbents are fairly clear. These may briefly be stated as follows:

  1. Intelligence. It is obvious that in a fire-fighter a certain level of intelligence should be required in order that he may perform his duties properly and particularly in order that he may not endanger the lives of himself and his fellow workers. Either or both of two methods may be used to assure this level of intelligence. The first is to give some standardized intelligence tests, such as the army alpha tests. The second is to give an unstandardized intelligence test which is in terms of the work the fire-fighter will be called upon to perform. Each of these has advantages and apparently each supplements the other. The army alpha intelligence tests, for example, have been used so extensively that the results can be interpreted with considerable confidence. Unstandardized tests in terms of a fire-fighter’s work, on the other hand, appeal to the competitors as being practical in their nature. This whole matter is discussed at some length in an article headed “Suggested Tests for Patrolman” in the July number of Public Personnel Studies; the considerations as there set forth which led to the conclusion that both the army alpha intelligence tests and unstandardized intelligence tests in terms of duties are desirable for patrolman appear to hold also in the case of fire-fighter.
  2. Medical and physical requirements. It is equally obvious that a fire-fighter should be in good physical condition and should have considerable strength and agility in order to perform his duties properly and to protect his own and his fellow fire-fighters’ lives. This requirement, however, does not mean that the good fire-fighter is necessarily a large or a heavy man. As a matter of fact, it would seem that the man of average height and weight would be most successful as a fire-fighter, provided that at the same time he has more than the average strength and agility; also that any departure from the average height or weight, whether it is up or down, is likely to prove a handicap rather than an advantage. Fire apparatus, the ladders on fire escapes, the size of doors and windows, and methods of fire-fighting are all of necessity predicated upon the assumption that men of approximately average height and weight will be available. The requirements as to height and weight should be so set as to make it possible to obtain men near the average; the medical tests should be so devised as to rule out those not in good physical condition; and the tests of strength and agility should be so selected as to secure men of more than the average strength and agility who are in good physical condition and who meet the requirements as to height and weight.
Photograph of Fire Scene to Be Used in Connection with Test 2 on Accuracy of Observation

Courtesy of the Washington Herald.

There is likely to be considerable diversity of opinion as to which of these two factors—mental or physical—should take precedence. On the whole, it appears that a certain level of intelligence should first of all he required both because a man of lesser intelligence is likely to do the wrong thing, and thus endanger life and property, regardless of how strong and agile he may be, and because intelligence can be measured with considerable certainty without great trouble. From among those who meet the requirements as to intelligence, selection can be made on the basis of physical traits with the preference given to those who have the desired traits to the greatest degree.

Tests Suggested for Selecting Fire-Fighters

In view of the considerations mentioned above and some others not discussed, the following tests for fire-fighter are suggested:

The total time required for the first six of these tests (including all except the medical and physical tests) is slightly more than two hours; this makes it possible to give the tests in the evening so as not to require most competitors to be absent from their work for a day. All the written tests except that on education and experience are in the short answer form so as to require little writing on the part of competitors and to facilitate the rating of papers when large numbers compete.

A complete set of the tests is given in appendix 1 of this article; additional sets will be prepared by the Bureau of Public Personnel Administration if needed and furnished free of charge to personnel administrators upon request. In succeeding sections of this article the reasons for selecting the tests and the material in them are given in some detail and suggestions as to giving and scoring them are made.

Army Alpha Intelligence. Tests (Test 1)

Fire-fighters with rare exceptions are selected from those who have had very little, if any, opportunity to learn the duties they will be called upon to perform. Practically all their organized training comes after their entrance into the service. For this reason it seems desirable to use some kind of intelligence test to eliminate those who possess such low ability that they will be unable to become efficient firefighters. The tests recommended for this purpose are the army alpha intelligence tests. It is also recommended that those who are not able to make a score of at least 55 in these tests be eliminated from further consideration.

In translating the army alpha scores into civil service ratings for fire-fighter, it is suggested that the table on page 1374 be used (this table is constructed on the assumption that the general average required for passing in all the tests for fire-fighter is 70, so if the passing mark is 65, 75, or some other figure, adjustments in the table should be made).

Accuracy of Observation (Test 2)

In addition to the use of the army alpha tests as a measure of the general intelligence of competitors, it is recommended that four special intelligence tests, stated in terms of the fire-fighter’s duties, be used. The first of these deals with ability to observe accurately. Speed and accuracy of observation is an important factor in the efficient discharge of the duties of many vocations, and especially is this trne in the case of the fire-fighter. If the fire-fighter makes a faulty observation, it may result in the loss of his own life or in the lives of others, or more commonly in the needless loss of property. The test here suggested presents a photograph of a typical fire scene which the competitor observes carefully for five minutes and makes notes about if he so desires. He is then asked twenty questions about what is shown in the photograph. This test should appeal to the competitors as being in terms of their work.

(Continued on page 1374)

Choosing Right Men for Fire-Fighting

(Continued from page 1356)

Table to Be Used in Translating Army Alpha Scores Into Civil Service Ratings for Fire-Fighters. (See page 1356)

It is suggested that five minutes be allowed for studying the photograph and ten minutes for answering the questions; also that a score of 5 be given for each of the twenty questions answered correctly. Prints of the photograph will be furnished upon request by the bureau of public personnel administration at cost (one and one-half or two cents each).

Understanding of Printed Material (Test 3)

Most fire departments provide their men with manuals and other printed material explaining fire-fighting equipment and the duties of a fire-fighter. It is expected that the men will be able to read and comprehend the meaning of this material. It is suggested, therefore, a limited amount of this kind of material be placed in the hands of competitors when the test is given and that they be asked twenty questions about its content.

It is suggested that twenty minutes be allowed for this test and that a score of 5 be given for each question answered correctly.

Information and Judgment (Test 4)

While it is not expected that those who seek positions as fire-fighters will know very much about the detailed duties of the position at the time the tests are given, yet it is reasonable to expect that they will have acquired a certain general fund of information relating to the work of fire-fighting. In order to test their information and judgment, certain typical problems which they might expect to meet in their work have been selected for inclusion in this test. The problems are stated in the form of a question with four answers, from which the competitor is to select and check the best one.

It is suggested that twenty minutes be allowed for this test and that a score of 5 be given for each question answered correctly.

Memory for Verbal Orders (Test 5)

The reasons for including a memory test of verbal orders are obvious. A very large part of the duties of a fire-fighter is the execution of the verbal orders given by his superior officers. It is suggested that two such orders be read to competitors and that they be required to answer 5 questions about each.

The method of giving this test is described in appendix 1. It is suggested that each question answered correctly be given a score of 10.

Education and Experience (Test 6)

It is suggested that education and experience be included as one of the tests but be given a relatively low weight owing to the fact that there is little opportunity to learn much about fire-fighting work before employment in a fire department. In addition, it is not clear whether military, naval, or other experience in an organization where strict discipline is maintained is of positive or negative value. A weight of 1 (out of 10) with an equal division between education and experience is suggested as being on the whole probably most satisfactory. Such a weight and division make it possible to give extra credit for high school or college training and for whatever kinds of experience may be considered to have value.

Medical Tests of Physical Condition and Physical Tests of Strength and Agility (Test 7)

It is suggested that the usual tests to determine the physical condition and the strength and agility of competitors be given; in this connection it should be pointed out once more that any marked departure from the average height (about 68 inches) or from the normal weight for the age and height ought to be penalized unless competitors thus varying from the normal make up for their variation by exceptional physical condition, strength, and agility. It should be pointed out too that a certain level of intelligence is fully as important as the highest physical endowments and that the medical and physical standards therefore should not be set so high as to make it impossible or difficult to secure men with the necessary mental attainments.

In view of the importance of the physical condition and the strength and agility of competitors, a weight of 3 (out of 10) is suggested for the medical and physical tests.


Suggested Preliminary Requirements

It is suggested that in the public announcement of the tests for fire-fighter the following preliminary requirements be stated and that all applicants and competitors who fail to measure up to these preliminary requirements be rejected, either at the time the application is filed or at any later time when the failure to meet these requirements is discovered;

  1. Age—21 to 29 years (the date to be used in calculating age that of closing receipt of applications or 30 days or three months later).
  2. Height—not less than 66 inches without shoes or stockings.
  3. Weight—not less than 130 pounds stripped.
  4. Chest expansion—not less than 2 inches
  5. Weight as related to height

Test 1—Army Alpha Intelligence Tests

(Suggested weight 2; minimum required score of 55 suggested)

Five alternative forms of the array alpha intelligence tests are available in printed form and can be secured from the Bureau of Educational Measurements and Standards, State Normal School, Emporia, Kansas, for $3 a hundred copies, or from the C. H. Stoelting Company, Chicago, Illinois, for $6.75 a hundred copies (lots of 25 can be purchased at proportionate rates). The Bureau of Public Personnel Administration will furnish a set of the five forms to any personnel administrator free of charge on request. The instructions for giving and scoring the tests are contained in Yoakum and Yerkes’ Army Mental Tests, which can be purchased from Henry Holt and Company, New York, for $1.50. The various forms as well as a complete description of their development and use arc given in volume 15 of the Memoirs of the National Academy of Sciences, a volume of 890 large pages, which can be secured from the government printing office, Washington, D. C., for $1.50. All of the essential material of this large volume is given in a more compact and usable form in Yoakum and Yerkes’ Army Mental Tests.

Test 2—Accuracy of Observation

(Suggested weight 1)

Directions to the examiner: Pass out the sheets containing the picture of the fire in the corner building, placing a sheet face down on the desk in front of each competitor. Secure the attention of the competitors and make some such announcement as this: “The sheet face down on the desk before you contains a picture of a large fire. When I give the signal you are to turn over this sheet and study all you see in the picture for five minutes. Later the picture will be taken up and you will be asked to answer 20 questions about it. These 20 questions will be about such things as the time and place of the fire, how it occurred, what damage was done, and other facts such as a fire-fighter ought to note. If you wish to you may make notes about the things you see in the drawing and use these notes in answering the questions which will be asked you later. Remember that you are to have just five minutes to study the picture and that you will have to answer 20 questions about it from memory or from your notes. Are you ready?” When all are ready, have them turn over the sheets containing the picture and allow them to study it for five minutes. Then collect the pictures. Distribute the question sheets, giving one to each competitor, and allow 10 minutes for answering the questions. Then collect the answer sheets.

(To be Continued. Reprinted from Public Personnel Studies.)

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