In this BLOG, we will look at some content from our new recruitment guidebook publication at Firehouse Training titled “So You Want to Be a Firefighter Eh?” which is Canada’s largest, most comprehensive book ever written on the fire service hiring process. We will discuss some strategies for the fire service panel interview.
Whether it is found on a written assessment test or as part of the interview process, there are important areas that need to be identified to ensure you are on the right track as you answer questions during the firefighter application process. The fire service is looking for candidates who have the mindset to respond to any situation whether it is an emergency or a non-emergency, either in the fire station or outside of it, whether dealing with others in the fire department or with the public. A firefighter’s decision is based off a set of qualities, values, and character traits required to make some difficult decisions. These are called soft skills.
We know the “hard skills” that are required to be a firefighter—those include the course requirements, additional training and education, having a driver’s licence, and being able to pass the fitness tests. So, what are soft skills? They are the transferable “people skills” you get from being a good human being. They include being polite, being reliable, being able to manage your time wisely, having the ability to motivate yourself, being a good citizen and serving your community, being a creative thinker, finding ways to get along with people as well as finding ways to resolve things if you have a conflict. It also involves generally being a nice and kind person. These very important soft skills are a combination of people skills, social skills, and communication, as well as character or personality traits and attitudes.
Knowing that interviewers want evidence of your soft skills, you can demonstrate your integrity and people skills while answering questions that show you know how to use good professional judgement. We already know that many of these decisions can be based on the overall hierarchy and understanding of the three basic firefighter priorities when responding to an emergency or on the fireground: Life Safety, Incident Stabilization & Property Conservation.
For example, in an interview question, the fire chief may ask you “What are the priorities of a firefighter on the fireground?”
WHAT TO CONSIDER IN YOUR ANSWER: With your general understanding and explanation of three basic firefighter priorities, knowing that as a firefighter, it is important to remember tactical priorities such as rescue of civilians and conducting your own firefighter safety, knowing that you would work as a team to follow orders through the chain of command and complete various tasks and strategies of firefighting while protecting any exposures and property, and assisting with various emergency agencies on scene like paramedics and police, you could answer that question in full.
If you follow some of the general response priorities and add additional details to this question based on your previous firefighter education or experiences, then you will be well on your way to maximizing your score on that question. By understanding the general framework of how a firefighter must think and taking it upon yourself to gather additional knowledge through using a fire service training manual like this one, gaining experience and training in specific competencies, plus sprinkling the fact that you have done all this within your answers to questions, you will do very well in an interview.
Additional information for a question like this one may include telling the panel that it is a priority that firefighters wear appropriate personal protective equipment and that they ensure overall scene safety by communicating with bystanders and controlling traffic to minimize risk. You may also be able to explain further firefighting tactics and rescue strategies that will protect life, limb, and property. This will enhance your answer and maximize your interview score even more.
How to Deal with Emergency Response Priority Questions in an Interview
In an interview, you may be asked emergency response-related questions, in which your decision-making skills will be tested. You will be asked various questions in regard to responding to car accidents, medical situations, potential rescues, and hazardous materials. How you answer these questions will be based on a few key areas:
• Are you on duty as a firefighter?
• Is your own personal safety a priority?
• Are you responding as a civilian or bystander?
• Do you have access to any personal protective equipment?
• Do you have any first aid or medical equipment available?
• Have you called for additional assistance?
Example Question: You are walking down the street when you witness a two-car motor vehicle collision on the street in front of you. How would you handle this situation and why?
To answer this question appropriately, it is important to completely understand the decision-making framework, as this will affect your overall response. For example, if you are witnessing and responding to this car accident as a civilian or an off-duty firefighter, you will only have limited personal protective equipment which will prioritize creating a safe working area, cordoning off the hazard area to keep away from any broken glass, smoke and fire, electrical wires and hazards, or gas leaks. Communicating to bystanders to get back, directing traffic, and calling 911 for additional resources and emergency services to respond to the scene, is vital as well.
At that point, only if it is safe to do so, a responder with limited personal protective equipment will make contact with patients, but from a distance. A responder will urge the patient to self-extricate from the car accident, treat any life-threatening injuries if possible, such as dealing with deadly bleeds or breathing emergencies, maintain C-spine (stabilizing the head and neck), and treat the patient for shock. It is not advised that you attempt to extricate the patient from a hazardous environment such as a burning vehicle. Safety would be based on your level of personal protective equipment, and personal safety with a risk based response mindset; this must be showcased or verbalized to the interview panel.
A concern for safety will always be a priority for any emergency responder, whether they be off-duty or on-duty, but it will always be in relation to the level of personal protective equipment the responder is wearing including, but not limited to, steel-toe boots, safety glasses, gloves, fire and cut-resistive bunker gear. Your actions will also be in relation to the first aid or medical equipment you have on your person to deal with any major injuries. The fire service is looking for candidates who are smart, can protect themselves, and understand this risk-based response mindset to limit any unnecessary injuries and still perform the task appropriately.
Only after the first responder has dealt with any of the major injuries will they then deal with issues such as minor bleeds, burns, bruises, and broken bones, as long as they can do so based on the appropriate level of protection. Assisting any responding agencies such as the fire department, paramedics, or police upon arrival will also be relevant, including moving bystanders, vacant vehicles, or equipment, carrying equipment, and providing patient or scene updates. Remember, we must always keep in mind our concern for safety, our own accountability, including the safety of others, and that we only risk what we can save, in the safest manner possible. This is one of the key benchmarks in firefighter decision-making.
The interview panel will always expect you to provide the best response while also keeping safety considerations in mind. The easiest way to fail this question is to throw your awareness of safety to the side. You must not perform any kind of rescue or patient care without identifying a proper scene safety assessment, considering your level of personal protective equipment, making the call for additional resources, and ensuring continuous scene safety, including that of the bystanders. Should you skip any of the steps that involve safety, failing to utilize or call for further resources that may be required on an emergency scene and performing rescues without proper equipment, then no matter whether you are responding as a bystander, an on-duty, or an off-duty firefighter, you will not be successful with this interview question. You may find similar questions during the aptitude test portion of the recruitment process, in which you may have to prioritize your response based on multiple choice questions. These basic response priorities will remain the same and will guide you to the correct answer and response.