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Don’t get burned visiting fire halls


December 13, 2007
By KORY PEARN

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Kory Pearn is the author of The Complete Guide to Becoming a Firefighternow in its second edition. Pearn also hosts Firefighter Career Expo, held twice a year in Ontario to give attendees a chance to network with chiefs and chief officers and learn from the experts how to land jobs in fire services.


Visiting a fire hall can be extremely beneficial to potential firefighter candidates if executed properly.  Throughout this article I will give you some vital tips that will increase your chances of making a great first and lasting impression at the fire hall.

Purpose of visiting fire halls: You should have a couple of objectives during your visit; one should be getting your name and face out there so the fire hall knows who you are.  The second is to gain a better understanding about the fire department and the firefighters that work there. This will increase your chances of answering questions related to the fire department during an interview. 

Preparation for your visit
Before you decide to visit a fire hall try to gain some general knowledge about that fire department.  The more tools you have in your tool box the better off you will be. Things you may want to know about the fire department before you show up for a visit are: the number of fire halls in the community, the types of calls they are equipped to handle such as water rescue emergencies, high angle rescue, hazardous materials etc., and any new equipment the fire department has received such as a new fire truck.  This type of news is exciting to firefighters and makes an excellent conversation topic for you during your visit. 

Find out the Chief, Deputy Chief, and the Training Officer’s names and/or what they look like in case you see them during your visit.  Also learn the geographical area covered by that specific fire hall; this could be another great conversation topic for you.  For example, if the fire hall covers an escarpment or waterway you may want to ask questions about the equipment they have to handle these emergencies or the training they have received to perform a rescue in such an environment. 

How to visit a fire hall
Approach:  When you visit the fire department make sure you park in the visitor parking lot and not in the chief’s dedicated parking spot.  Your career could be over before it even begins, ha ha.  Also make sure you use the proper entrance to announce your arrival, most fire halls have a front entrance where the general public can be received.

Appearance: Be cognitive of your appearance. Remember you’re visiting a fire hall not your best friend’s house – you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Casual clothes are appropriate, such as jeans, shorts, T-shirts, etc., but I would avoid wearing shirts that have suggestive or controversial statements on them.  You should be clean shaven, well groomed and limited to little or no make-up.  Also avoid heavy or strong scents.  If you have piercing(s) or tattoos it’s a good idea to conceal or remove them.  This is not absolutely necessary but recommended.

Timing:  Try to keep your visit short and effective, use your instincts as to how well your visit is going.  If you have the inkling that you are visiting during an awkward time such as interrupting training or a fire department tour for children, end the visit and try again later.  You should refrain from visiting a fire hall during lunch or shift change hours.  Most fire halls will be extremely receptive to you regardless of when or what time of day you happen to visit.  If you are uncertain you could always call ahead and set up an appointment to visit the fire hall.  
Confidence: Be sure to have a firm handshake and make good eye contact.  Ideally you should shake hands while entering and leaving the hall. 

Manners: Make sure you demonstrate proper manners throughout your entire visit.  Be sure not to chew gum or wear sunglasses when engaged in conversation or upon greeting someone.  It’s important they see your eyes to be convinced you’re sincere. 

Frequency: You should try to visit every four to six months if possible.  To eliminate the possibility of being a nuisance you can show your appreciation by bringing in doughnuts or ice cream for the on-duty staff.  This gesture will go a long way and you’ll probably start a frenzy around the fire hall because everyone will be wondering where the treats came from and your name is going to be mentioned all day long.  This is exactly what you want to accomplish. 

Attitude: During your visits you must have a positive attitude.  The last thing you want to have happen is to allow yourself to vent your personal frustrations out on the nearest firefighter you come in to contact with and tell him/her about how hard it is to get hired or how you should have received an interview in the last recruitment for this fire department.  If this conversation does arise say something positive like “It must not have been my turn to get hired, I will get my chance. I just have to be patient.” 

Departure
A simple “Thank you for your time” will suffice in closing your visit.  On your way out of the fire hall be sure to thank everyone you see who talked to you during your visit. 

Creating a relationship with a fire department is crucial.  A common mistake candidates make is only visiting a fire hall when that fire department is hiring.  This makes it very obvious that you are only interested in the fire department because of the recruitment at the present time.  In this case you may be better off not to visit at all and remain anonymous, hoping you will get called for an interview regardless.  I suggest that you start visiting fire halls in the areas you want to work in when they’re not hiring.  This way it’s obvious you want to work there and that you have some loyalty to that particular fire department. 

One of the hardest things about recruiting firefighters is the fire department not only has to hire someone capable of doing the job, they also have to hire someone who is compatible with the other firefighters.  Chemistry in the firehouse is extremely important and if you can prove that you’re someone who is responsible, committed, loyal and has strong well-developed interpersonal skills, you would be seen by the fire department as someone who is a likely candidate to be recruited.  All you have to do now is back yourself up with an impressive resume.  If you do everything you can and keep doing everything you can, you will have your job offer.

 
Kory Pearn is the author of The Complete Guide to Becoming a Firefighternow in its second edition. Pearn also hosts Firefighter Career Expo, held twice a year in Ontario to give attendees a chance to network with chiefs and chief officers and learn from the experts how to land jobs in fire services.


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