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Strategy for Judgement, Human Relations and Problem Solving by Brent Collins

Problem Solving measures your ability to recognize or identify the existence of problems. You will not be tested on the ability to solve the problem, only the ability to identify or recognize it.

For the purposes of the firefighter exam, Problem Solving questions are somewhat similar to Deductive Reasoning questions. The Deductive Reasoning questions start with a rule. The Problem Sensitivity questions tend to start with a description of some general practice among firefighters. Then the question asks you what might be the best reason for that common practice. For example, a question might start by telling you that firefighters wear helmets made out of hard leather, not metal or plastics. The answer choices might give various possible reasons for this, e.g., it is lighter, it is less costly, it is less likely to get hot or melt. You must pick the answer which gives the best reason for the practice.

Problem Solving questions will be easier to answer if you keep in mind the main goals of firefighting. You probably realize that most fire departments officially state that their purpose is to ’protect life and property.’ Sometimes ’life’ is more fully stated as ’life and limb.’ The idea behind protecting ’life and limb’ is to keep people from being killed and, furthermore, to keep them from being seriously injured.

Protecting life and limb is more important than protecting property, and so is stated first. The purpose of a fire department is to protect ’life and property.’ In other words, the safety of people is more important than protecting property.

A fire department is also expected to operate efficiently. Being efficient is important in any kind of work, but is less important than protecting life and property. Hence, if we list the goals of a fire department in the order of their importance, the list would be:

1. Safety

2. Protecting property

3. Efficiency

As the list of goals suggests, the best reason for anything is Safety. If safety is a real issue in the ’fact pattern’ of the question, then safety is the best reason to justify any practice.

But sometimes there is no real issue of safety. No one is seriously endangered at the moment. In that case, the best reason for any practice is the fact that it is necessary in order to protect property. However, ’property’ includes fire department property--firehouse, fire engine, tools, etc. Property can be sacrificed when safety is at stake. But if there is no real threat to safety, one must protect property.

If there is no real question of safety and no real threat to property in the situation, then the best reason for doing something is that it is efficient. If several answer choices are based on efficiency, you will be judging which answer choice would really be more efficient.

Any answer which suggests that something should be done because it will bring praise or benefit to the firefighter is not likely to be a correct answer to a test question. Financial benefits to other people are not usually good enough reasons either. Likewise, an answer choice which tries to justify something only on the grounds that it will make the fire department ’look good,’ is not likely to be a correct answer. Being good will always be a better reason than looking good. And financial benefits to anybody are not usually good enough reasons for fire department practices.

Remember that reasons must be realistic. To justify a practice on the basis of safety, there must be something in the question situation to support the idea that safety is at stake. Similarly, a proposed answer based on efficiency should really have the appearance of being possible and efficient. Forest fires can be brought under control to some extent by dropping chemicals on them from planes, but it would not be practical to try chemical bombing of a burning house.

It is especially difficult to choose between some of the answer choices with these questions about the best reasons for doing things. Problem Solving deals with more ambiguous problems than other kinds of questions. But there is an old test taking strategy that may help you here. You should remember that, in a sense, it is ultimately the Mayor or the Fire Chief who is testing you for the firefighter job. When faced with difficult choices on a question of this type, imagine that the question is being asked personally by the Mayor or Fire Chief. Choose the answer you would give to the Mayor or Chief in face to face questioning.

About the author:
Brent Collins is currently Assistant Fire Chief, Cleveland Fire Department and President of Don McNea Fire School. He is a very generous and helpful person and is always available to help with your goal to become a firefighter. Visit his website for more information on test taking strategies and advice.


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