Story Telling: How to Answer Firefighter Interview Questions

The firefighter interview is the most pivotal part of the hiring process. Knowing how to answer firefighter interview questions is key to being successful. If the interview goes well, you will be offered a job and be on your way to fulfilling your dream of becoming a firefighter. On the other hand, if it goes poorly, you will be going back to the proverbial drawing board to figure out where it all went wrong as you continue on through the testing process. So what should you do to make sure that your interview goes well? PREPARATION! But not just any preparation. It has to be the right preparation. You need to prepare to be a storyteller in your interview. Storytelling is by far the best way to show an interview panel who you are, and that you ARE the candidate that they need to hire.


The Interview Blueprint

In order to be successful in the panel interview, you need to know what to expect. Commonly, a firefighter interview panel is made up of 3-5 people. These people may be firefighters, operators/engineers, captains, or chiefs. They will sit across from you at a table and ask you anywhere from 5-15 questions, depending on the time-frame given for the interview. Once a question is asked, the panel will take notes as you respond. Sometimes the panel will ask follow up questions based on your answers, but usually they will remain silent and move on to the next question when you have finished your answer.


What is the Point?

Why is the panel asking every candidate questions? I can tell you right now it isn’t so they can hear a hundred times in a row “I just really want to help people” when they ask “So why do you want to be a firefighter?”. While that is a noble and altruistic answer, the real reason why the panel is asking questions is so that they can try to get a true understanding of the person they are interviewing. The panel doesn’t want to hear canned answers to all of their questions. They want genuine answers that actually tell them about your traits, skills, values, and motivations. The panel’s ultimate goal is to get to know the real you so that they know whether or not you are a good fit for their fire department. Using experiences from your past, and turning them into stories that showcase who you are is the best way to ensure success in your interview.


How to tell a story

So how do you take an experience from your life and make it a relevant interview answer? 

  • Step One: Research the job posting for the department you are interviewing with. Look for the section that lists the desired KSA’s (knowledge, skills, and abilities) for the job. This section will list out the traits the department is looking for in their candidates. Use these to direct your brainstorming in step two.

  • Step Two: Brainstorm about what personality traits, skills, and values make you a good fit to be a firefighter. Ex: Honesty, work ethic, speak multiple languages, construction background, etc. Again, cross reference these with the KSA’s in the job posting.

  • Step Three: Think of times in your life when you went through something that exemplifies that trait, skill, or value. That example may have been at a job, playing sports, traveling or a past experience with family. The example is relevant no matter what part of your life it comes from.

  • Step Four: Write out the story in paragraph form while pretending to use it as an interview answer. 

    • Start with an introduction that restates the question you have been asked, and informs the panel that you are about to tell them a story about yourself that will showcase a specific trait or value (from step two) that will answer their question. 

    • Then tell them the story. When you’re preparing the story beforehand, write it out so that you keep it succinct and to the point. If you are not careful, telling a story can lead you down a rabbit hole and waste your allotted time. Don’t forget that you need to leave time for the other questions.

    • Finish your answer with a very brief conclusion. A one sentence summation of the trait you just showcased in your story and how it directly relates to why you will be a good firefighter.


The Takeaway

Interviews can be extremely stressful, but having the proper preparation will help. Use your stories to show the panel, and the Chief, that you possess the knowledge, skills, and abilities they are looking for. Do that, and you will be a firefighter after your next interview.