Job of a fire chief isn’t won in an interview. You can win this job only with years of quality service in the fire department, demonstrating responsibility and leadership along the way, as you slowly rise the ladder of ranks, from firefighter to lieutenant, to captain and and eventually chief of the entire department. Of course, this varies from one district to another, and one country to another, and you do not necessarily have to pass all the steps to become a fire chief. But unless you demonstrated your commitment and leadership in the service, you won’t even get a chance to interview for a position of a chief. Once you get a chance, however, what can you expect?
Typically they will ask you some questions about your motivation, expectations on the role, leadership, and about various situations you may face while leading the fire department. In some cases the interview will be a mere formality. Unless you remain silent after their questions, they will give you the job. In other cases, however, and when you happen to compete with someone else for the position, they are comparing you with the other candidate, trying to pick the best one. Let’s have a look at some questions you may face in this case.
Can you describe your firefighting experience so far?
Walk them through your experience, mentioning all major milestones. The day when you entered the service, your training, how you progressed up the ranks, and a couple of major occasions you’ve experienced, such as saving someone from the burning house, or risking your neck for a colleague who ended trapped in some place.
Try to talk about your experience with respect and confidence, so they get an impression that you can handle challenging situations and get over setbacks and personal losses. You can end your narrative saying that after all you’ve been through in the service, you feel ready to work as a fire chief. It is important to show confidence in your abilities to handle the job.
What do you consider the main role of a fire chief at this fire department?
This depends a lot on the size of the department, as well as number of firefighters. If it is a small place, you will likely take care of shift planning, human resources, supervision, organizational and administrative duties, and organizing the operation from the office. In many cases, you may take part in the team and respond to a fire, or to some other accident. You’ll just have these extra responsibilities when compared to other firemen.
In a bigger departments, where you’ll have assistants and deputies and other staff members to help you out, you will mostly take care of budgeting and planning, and managing a couple of other leading firefighters working under you, who will in turn manage their teams. Think about your situation, and the department you will lead. Job description should also help you a lot here. Try to understand what exactly you will do, and then refer to it in your interview.
What do you consider the major challenges we face in this fire department?
Insider’s knowledge of the department should help you identify a couple of challenges they face, and you will help to address them from the position of a fire chief. It can be anything from being understaffed to internal conflicts, old equipment and cars, lack of promotional activities and events for the general public, some budgeting issues, or anything else.
If we talk about an area with common forest fires, or other incidents and accidents firefighters respond to, you can even talk about prevention and education of the people in the area. And if you apply in a “perfect department”, and cannot see any challenges from your position, you can simply talk about keeping the bar high, and making sure that the department continues to thrive under your leadership. Needless to say, when you identify a particular challenge, you can outline steps you will take while trying to address it.
How will you make sure to hire the best candidates to your team?
Firefighter recruitment has different rules in various places. More often than not, candidates have to pass a test of their physical abilities, and also a personality test (to make sure you won’t hire someone who will do some crazy things in the job, and someone who won’t crack under pressure).
These things are typically set in stone, and all you can do from a position of a fire chief is making sure that each candidate undergoes the entire interview process, and gets a quality training once they are hired. But you can talk also about other things–knowing the team well, and making sure that the new guys will fit into the team, promoting the activities of the fire department and taking care of PR, in order to attract more candidates to apply–bigger pool of candidates means a better choice, and so on. Show them that you have some ideas, and will try your best to get quality people onboard.
In your opinion, what is the role of paperwork in the job of a fire chief?
You should give it some importance. Sure enough, nobody likes to take care of paperwork and bureaucracy, but in order to keep the place in order, and make sure that no supplies are missing, and that the entire operation runs as it should, some paperwork is necessary.
You can say that paperwork isn’t the top priority of a fire chief, but you understand the role it plays in their work, and definitely do not want to neglect it while holding the position. That’s the attitude they typically seek in a good applicant for the job.
10 other questions you may face in your interview for a job of a fire chief
- Tell us about the most stressful situation you’ve ever faced in the service.
- What is your vision for the fire department you will lead? What would you like to achieve here in five years from now?
- What does integrity mean to you?
- Imagine that you find one of your best men sleeping in the middle of the shift. How will you react?
- Tell us about a time when you felt overwhelmed with work.
- What’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made as a firefighter?
- Describe a time when you did not know how to solve the problem. What did you do?
- Tell us about a time when you demonstrated leadership at work.
- What accomplishments are you most proud of?
- We have two other candidates applying for the post of a fire chief. What can you offer us that someone else cannot?
Final thoughts, next steps
You have to deserve the position of the fire chief before you can win it in an interview. If you’ve done a good service over the years, and are generally respected in the fire department, and belong to the oldest and most experienced members, you have a high chances of getting the job.
Keep in mind though that you may not be the only candidate, and in such a case you can expect some tricky questions about your vision for the fire department, challenges you will face in the job, as well as about your attitude to different situations. Try to prepare for the questions in advance, and make sure you won’t answer any of them with silence. I hope you will succeed, and wish you best of luck!
May also interest you:
- How to overcome interview nerves – Feeling nervous before the start of your interview? Learn how top get your anxiety under control, and do not let it to mar your chances in the interviews.
- 15 most common interview questions – Learn how to answer questions about your goals, strengths and weaknesses, future plans, and other questions you can face in any interview.