Recruiting Women as Structural Firefighters, Part IV: Test Preparation Sessions

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:

  • They allow candidates to measure their fitness levels against what the fire department will require of them, and to identify any areas of weakness;
  • They provide instruction for candidates in the techniques that can most effectively be used to accomplish the test items;
  • They give candidates experience in handling the equipment used on the test; and
  • They give the fire department an opportunity to identify any problems or inconsistencies in the design and administration of the test.

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:

  • The equipment, tasks and sequence of events should be the same as on the actual test, or as close as possible. It may be convenient to set up just part of the test for each session, but if your test consists of a timed sequence of tasks, participants will only be able to get a realistic idea of the endurance needed to complete the test in the allotted time if they can go through all of its events.
  • Obtain release forms from all participants prior to any hands-on activity. You may also require that certain types of clothing or footwear be worn, or you may wish to provide helmets, gloves or other protective items for candidates to wear during practice. If you are providing the equipment, make a full range of sizes available to ensure a safe fit for all participants.
  • Firefighters and officers who will staff the practice sessions should be carefully selected and trained. They should support and encourage all candidates, and should offer instruction in all techniques that will be acceptable on the test. If candidates attempt to use techniques or methods that are clearly unsafe, the staff should inform them that their method is not acceptable. It is very important to have consistency between the personnel giving instruction at the practice sessions and those who will administer the test, so candidates receive reliable information.
  • Schedule the sessions for different times of day and different days of the week, to maximize the number of candidates who can attend. If the testing equipment is relatively portable and easy to set up, consider holding practice sessions at several locations, for the same reason.

Physical test preparation: other resources

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.

Other forms of preparation

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.




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