If you don’t meet these criteria, you should not even consider a career in the Fire Service.
Many candidates pursuing a career in the Fire Service focus on taking classes, gaining experience or trying to learn the “right” answers to test and interview questions; however, if you don’t truly think about and understand the core essence of being a firefighter, you could be wasting your time pursuing the wrong career.
There are several key character traits that are inherent in all great Firefighters. These traits have nothing to do with intelligence, fitness or even firefighting ability. If you do not possess these fundamental character traits, I highly encourage you to reconsider your desire to become a Firefighter. If you do possess these character traits, I encourage you to think about how you can share the importance of these traits in your future interviews. Also think about how you will maintain these driving motivators throughout the duration of your Fire Service career.
Main key areas and character traits to self examine include:
- CARE, EMPATHY and COMPASSION
- HONESTY and INTEGRITY
CARE, EMPATHY and COMPASSION
Let’s start with the first category dealing with Care, Empathy and Compassion. I’ve see a lot of people who are interested in becoming a Firefighter, but sometimes for superficial reasons. Some candidates are drawn to the Fire Service with the idea of an exciting, action-filled career performing brave heroic deeds. While it’s true that we do fight fires and we do perform rescues, the job can also be slow and boring.
I would highly discourage you from attempting to enter this profession to be the “Hero,” to live a life of excitement or because you want to impress people with the uniform or fire engine. Yes, I’ve actually had more than one person mention those reasons in an interview. At the heart of this profession is a sense of commitment to care for and help others. Trust me, we get to do exciting things; however, we spend far more time helping people with medical emergencies and other less “exciting” calls.
Firefighting can often be a dirty job. We see things most people don’t. We see and deal with truly gory situations that often exceed what you’d see in the most graphic action or horror movie. We deal with blood, guts, vomit, urine, feces and oozing wounds. This is not glamorous; however, it is a real part of the job and one of the parts that matter most. We care for people and we take care of people in situations where they can not take care of themselves. You have to CARE about people. Firefighters must have true COMPASSION and EMPATHY for others. If you don’t, you will not be of service to anyone and you will not last in this career field.
HONESTY AND INTEGRITY
Next let’s examine some aspects of honesty, trustworthiness and integrity and how those play a role in the day to day activities of firefighters.
The Fire Service is a unique organization and profession. The public entrusts us not only with their care and well being, but they also trust us to do right at all times. Think about it: what other person or profession do you trust and count on to care for you and your loved ones at your most vulnerable times? What other person or profession do you trust to come into your home and take care of your family, your home and your contents without oversight? The public trusts us to take care of them and expects us to do the right thing.
Over the years I have been in countless strangers homes, either when they’ve had a medical emergency, there has been a fire or even when they have not been home and a friend, family member or neighbor called to check on them or the property for one reason or another. I and my crew have walked into and through homes either to take care of the home owner or to check on and resolve a potential situation. Often this has occurred when the homeowner has been incapacitated or absent and each of those times we have respected the homeowner, the home and the possessions inside.
Think about your own home. If you had a medical emergency and were unconscious inside or away from your home and there was a suspected emergency there right now, what would we see in your home upon our arrival? Perhaps you’d have your laptop or iPad sitting on your desk or cash sitting out on your nightstand. Perhaps there would be dirty underwear or other embarrassing items left out. No matter what was there (aside from illegal, neglectful or dangerous activities such as child or elder abuse, which we would be obligated to report), we are expected to respect and protect your property, your privacy and your dignity. This trust the public places in us is sacred and must be respected and upheld. Without this public trust, we would not be able to do our job effectively.
This HONESTY and commitment to do the right thing is something we look for during the hiring process. There are many interview questions that are designed to help us evaluate you in regard to these topics. This is also a huge part of your background investigation. If you have lied, exaggerated or omitted things on your application, background packet or in your interviews, you will be disqualified and washed out of the hiring process. These are such important considerations, some departments also employ polygraphs and/or personality trait evaluations to help determine your honesty and trustworthiness.
None of us are perfect, we’ve all made mistakes when we were young and we’ve all learned lessons. Be honest about your mistakes. Be honest about the lessons you’ve learned. And be honest about why you truly want a career in the Fire Service.
This is a GREAT career and we get to do a lot of good things and help a lot of people. The reason this is possible is due to the quality of people in the Fire Service. These individuals are predominantly honest and trustworthy and they maintain the highest integrity for themselves and their profession. And at the core of each GREAT firefighter, is a caring individual with a heart of compassion.
The Fire Service can teach you the knowledge and skills to become a capable and competent firefighter. And with discipline, you can achieve a high level of fitness. However, guiding principles like honesty, integrity, compassion and empathy are needed before you ever enter this career. If these are your motivators, then please continue pursuing your dream of becoming a firefighter, and be sure to emphasize these during your interviews. We (the Fire Service and the public) need good people like you!
If you have any questions, thoughts or examples regarding these traits and the roles they play in the Fire Service, please leave them in the comments below.