In some fire departments, the testing procedure alone takes many weeks. Months or even years can elapse between the first orientation session and the day a new firefighter is actually hired. Fire departments unnecessarily lose many good candidates during this time. Throughout the application and hiring process, the more contact you can maintain between women candidates and the fire department, or among the women candidates themselves, the less likely you are to lose them, and the more likely they are to maintain their interest and motivation. Test preparation sessions for applicants are one way to maintain contact as well as to help candidates prepare for the upcoming testing process. They also accomplish several other important goals:
Some fire departments offer both their physical test and practice sessions on a regular basis: for example, practice sessions monthly and the test twice a year. Most departments, however, test only every year or two, and hold practice sessions only during the weeks or months right before the test. In either case, the practice sessions should be held far enough in advance that candidates can go through a practice to find out their areas of difficulty, and still have time afterwards to improve in those areas before they actually take the test.
In setting up practice sessions, consider the following:
Drawing on the resources of a local university, some fire departments have had exercise scientists create a task-specific training program designed around the items on the physical test, the physical demands of firefighter training and the physical requirements of the job. (If assessing these three items -- the test, the training, and the job -- produces three different sets of physical requirements, it is probably a good idea to re-evaluate your testing and training processes.) Describe the program in a way that will be clear to someone unfamiliar with weight-training terminology.
Look for community support to supplement what your department can do. Gyms and fitness clubs may be willing to offer membership discounts to candidates who are preparing to take the firefighter exam; make sure the staff members of these gyms receive copies of your training program. Donations from businesses or small grants from community funds may be available to sponsor applicants' gym memberships or tuition for a fitness-training course at a local college.
Many fire departments, union locals and support groups offer study-skills and test-taking workshops that help candidates prepare for written entry-level tests and for the fire academy. These classes or sessions focus on reading retention, problem-solving, and other skills and tips that help candidates in the testing process. Community colleges often have useful resource people in these areas: you may be able to borrow a faculty member to conduct workshops, or find ways to fund candidates' tuition ina study-skills course. This can be of great benefit to women who are re-entering the job market and to those with limited academic backgrounds, particularly if the written test is especially competitive. Workshops on interview skills can also be helpful in preparing candidates for that portion of the hiring process.
A mentoring program can be set up to provide direct support by incumbent personnel of firefighter candidates or recruits. Mentors offer support, a point of contact within the department, technique tips, and additional needed information. Individual firefighters or officers, through the department or the union, may volunteer to serve as mentors to candidates, trainees, or probationary firefighters. A list of names should be offered to the candidates or recruits so that they can choose the firefighter they personally are most comfortable contacting.
This article is adapted from material developed by WFS under contract to the Federal Emergency Management Agency's U.S. Fire Administration, and published by FEMA/USFA as Many Faces, One Purpose: A Manager's Handbook on Women in Firefighting. It may be accessed free of charge from our site: Info Packets.
NETWORKING THE WOMEN OF TODAY'S FIREFIGHTING WORLD, AND PROVIDING RESOURCES TO HELP BUILD THE FIRE SERVICE OF THE FUTURE