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Fire Department Interviews by Paul Lepore – Division Chief

The fire department interview is one component of the hiring process. It is usually weighted more than any other part. Often the other phases of the hiring process are pass/fail, and the interview is 100% of your overall score. It is therefore often the most important phase of the exam process.

- Many interview questions have no clear-cut right answers, but do have definite wrong answers often will result in automatic failure.

- The best way to do well is to learn about the types of questions that are commonly asked, and prepare well thought out responses.

- Competition is fierce. Frequently there are 100 applicants per job opening. One wrong answer will often eliminate you.

Many fire departments only require that a candidate be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma or GED. Theoretically, a candidate could get hired on that alone. However, with the competition so fierce, completing EMT training, taking fire science courses, and graduating from a basic fire academy will greatly improve your chances of getting hired.

*The most important key to success on the interview is for you to present yourself as a person that the firefighters would want to have on their crew. Having a good resume is important, but not as important as being the person the firefighters want to spend a 24 hour shift with (and the next 30 years of your career). The crew is like a family, and you need to fit in and be liked.

To improve your interview scores:

- Practice doing mock interviews.

- Enlist the help of firefighters, as they had to go through this process and will have useful tips.

- Hire a private interview coach.

The following are excerpts from Smoke Your Firefighter Interview to highlight the thought process behind two common interview questions.

Tell us about yourself

The purpose of this question is for you to discuss your personal life.

- Do not talk about your qualifications – that is already on your resume.

- Do discuss your life experiences and personal interests and hobbies.

- Share information that tells the rater what kind of person you are.

a. share where you are from
b. what you do for fun
c. accomplishments that you are proud of

Hopefully they will learn something about you that they can relate to, which can result in a higher score.

Why do you want to be a firefighter?

The purpose of this question is to learn your motivation behind wanting to become a firefighter.
- Put a lot of thought into this question beforehand, and prepare yourself with several reasons that you can easily deliver to the panel.
Your top reasons should be things like:

a. You enjoy helping people

b. You are a team player who likes to solve problems in the community

c. You would like to be a community role model

d. You like challenges and problem-solving

e. You enjoy learning and look forward to mastering the different levels in the fire service

f. You like to work with your hands as well as your brain

g. You are interested in medical calls and would enjoy being an EMT

- Way down the list should be the salaries, benefits, and free-time. It will not look good if those are your primary reasons for wanting to be a firefighter. If they are, you should probably consider another profession.

- Do not “recite” your answers. You need to sound natural. This comes from having spent plenty of time going over your questions and answers.

- Do not used “canned” answers that simply repeat what someone has told you to say. It is critical for you to speak from your heart!

- Demonstrate enthusiasm for the fire service. This will strike a chord with the raters, who are usually also firefighters. Let them know you will really appreciate and respect this career.

About the Author: Paul Lepore is currently a shift Division Chief for a fire department in Southern California. In addition to managing the emergency responses for the City, his responsibilities include managing the EMS Division, the Emergency Operations Center (EOC), and the CERT program.

Prior to this position, Chief Lepore spent 23 years on the Long Beach Fire Department. He spent 5 years as a Battalion Chief working predominantly in the northern part of the city. He was also assigned as the Battalion Chief in charge of the EMS Division for two years. He feels very fortunate to have run some major incidents typical of a big city fire department, including working as a member of the Operations Section during the Paradise Gardens Apartments fire, the largest in the city for the past 25 years. Chief Lepore has also managed some challenging personnel issues during his tenure as a chief officer. He has written, developed and proctored numerous promotional examinations, and shares both his operational and administrative experience with others to help them achieve their promotional goals.

Chief Lepore entered the fire service as a civilian Paramedic for the Los Angeles City Fire Department in 1985. After completing his education at the Los Angeles County Paramedic Training Institute, Lepore worked in the high impact area of South Central, Los Angeles. He was hired by the Long Beach Fire Department in 1986 and completed a 12-week academy. He spent the next two years working as a firefighter until he was promoted to firefighter/ paramedic. Lepore was promoted to Fire Captain in 1998 and to Battalion Chief in 2005. He took an outside Division Chief promotional exam for a neighboring department, where he was hired in 2010.

Chief Lepore earned a Master’s Degree in Public Administration and a Bachelor’s Degree in Vocational Education from California State University, Long Beach. He also earned an AS degree in Fire Science from Santa Ana College.

Lepore has conducted hundreds of entry-level interviews, as well as served as a rater for dozens of Battalion Chief and Captain’s promotional exams. He holds instructor credentials for EMT, Hazardous Materials and Weapons of Mass Destruction.

He has presented to local and national audiences at Firehouse World in San Diego and Las Vegas, the CSFA Conference in Long Beach, as well as the Northern California Training Officer’s conference. Presentation topics include Tactics and Strategy, Promoting in the Fire Service, and Formulating a Plan to Promote. He has also conducted numerous seminars to teach and mentor entry-level candidates.

Chief Lepore and his wife founded EMS Safety Services, a corporation which provides emergency response training programs, and sells quality, cost-effective emergency response products. Lepore and his lovely wife Marian have two daughters, Ashley and Samantha, and two granddaughters.

As an avid saltwater fisherman he has also written a book titled, “Sport Fishing in Baja”.

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