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Firefighter promotion interviews: How to handle scenario questions

Most questions are at their core about ethics or getting along with others; here's how to spot them and respond to them

What would you do as a captain in this scenario: Your battalion chief asks you to come in his office to review your final evaluation of probation and you notice a smell of alcohol on his breath. How would you reply?

This is a perfect example of how you can be fooled on a scenario question. I believe there are only 30 oral board questions, but they can be disguised in hundreds of different ways. This is one of the disguises for drinking on the job, which is number 12 on our list of 30.

Here is a simple way to break down a disguised question. Dissect the question to its simplest term, one word, of what the question is really about (stealing, drugs, drinking, etc.). Once you have removed the disguise, place it in one of the 30 oral board questions that follow, which you should already have answers for.

1. Tell us about yourself.

2. Why do you want to be a firefighter? When did you decide on this career?

3. What is the job of a firefighter? Are you qualified?

4. What have you done to prepare for this position?

5. What are you bringing to the job?

6. Why do you want to work for this city or agency?

7. What do you know about this city or agency?

8. What do you like to do; what are your hobbies?

9. What are your strengths and weaknesses?

10. What would your employer say about you?

11. What are the attributes of a firefighter, and which is the most important one to you?

How would you handle the following scenarios?

12. Drinking or drugs on the job.

13. Stealing on the job.

14. Conflict with another employee.

15. Irate citizen.

16. An employee crisis at an emergency.

17. Sexual harassment.

18. Racial situation.

19. Conflicting orders at an emergency.

20. An order that could place you in great danger or be morally wrong.

21. What do you say when you don't know an answer to a question?

22. Are you on any other hiring lists and what would you do if another city called you?

23. When can you start if we offered you the job?

24. How far do you want to go in the fire service, and where do you see yourself in five years?

25. What are the quality traits of a firefighter, and which one is the most important to you?

26. Have you ever been in an emergency situation? If so, tell us what you did.

27. What word would best describes you in a positive and negative way?

28. How do you handle conflict?

29. Why would we select you over the other candidates?

30. Do you have anything to add?

Understand that if the oral board fires up a question that sounds like drinking on the job, it's going to be about drinking on the job. If it's a question that sounds like taking drugs on the job, it's going to be about taking drugs on the job — and it's not going to be aspirin.

One way to help you do this is to picture a piece of paper with a line drawn down the center. On the left of the line are issues dealing with ethics, such as stealing, drugs or drinking. With ethical issues, you ask appropriate questions to determine what you suspect. In the scenario outlined earlier, it was your battalion chief smelling of alcohol.

You don't deviate, you go straight up, take action or go to a next level supervisor. On the right side of the line is anything to do with getting along with others; with these, you will go to great lengths to work it out. If you can decide what side of the line the question belongs, you have a better chance of knowing how to answer it.

So, back to the question of your battalion chief. First, take off the disguise — the fact that this is your battalion chief. Dissect the question down to its simplest form: one word. What is this about? Drinking. What side of the line is this on, right or left? 

If it's on the left side of the line, what do we do? Drinking is not tolerated. Ask questions to determine if your suspicions are correct — "Are you drinking?" If so, you go straight up. "We go to our supervisor no matter who or what rank is on the other side of the table." Stick to your answer, no matter what. You will never be wrong.

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