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OAFC launches standardized firefighter testing

April 3, 2014, Toronto – The Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs (OAFC) is standardizing and streamlining the candidate testing process for career firefighters to make it more accessible and affordable for prospective recruits and less onerous for municipal fire departments.

April 3, 2014
By Laura King

April 3, 2014, Toronto – The Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs (OAFC) is standardizing and streamlining the candidate testing process for career firefighters to make it more accessible and affordable for prospective recruits and less onerous for municipal fire departments.

The new province-wide process will also help to ensure that candidates from diverse backgrounds can succeed by helping them set timelines to achieve educational and physical goals necessary to qualify as potential recruits.

The OAFC says the process will be more open, transparent, fair and efficient.

The OAFC launched its Candidate Testing Service (CTS) Thursday at the Fire and Emergency Services Training Institute (FESTI) in Toronto; FESTI is a partner in the new service and will administer the aptitude, medical, physical and firefighter skills testing parts of the program.

Essentially, said OAFC president Matt Pegg, aspiring firefighters will spend less money, time and effort applying to different municipalities, and fire departments will be able to focus on selecting and training firefighters rather than administering and updating their own testing programs.

“At present, each and every fire department must run or manage their own recruit testing process,” Pegg said. “The independent processes are complex and often expensive and each process is unique. The test results from one department are seldom, if ever, transferable to another department, requiring candidates to pay for testing numerous times in the quest to be hired as a firefighter.”

Pegg said there is no consistent way to confirm and validate candidate aptitude, training and fitness other than each hiring municipality undertaking its own process.

“The OAFC’s new Ontario Fire Administration Inc. will allow firefighter candidates to focus on understanding and acquiring the skills and knowledge they need instead of trying to navigate a number of complicated testing processes,” he said.

Fire chiefs from across Ontario attended the news conference to support the initiative. Fire Chief Tim Becket of Kitchener, which has committed to use the new candidate testing service, said the program will “provide us with an opportunity to step back from a rigid system and free up corporate resources while giving us a much broader pool of qualified candidates.”

The OAFC will maintain the database of successful candidates.

Candidates who pass the aptitude, interpersonal skills and physical tests can then apply to fire departments, which will have a larger and more diverse pool of qualified applicants from which to choose to interview.

In addition, the OAFC’s website (www.oafc.ca) will feature a how-to guide for prospective firefighters that outlines the necessary steps and requirements – details such as the fact that firefighters can not be colour blind, something prospective candidates often learn after they have already spent time and money.

The firefighter candidate testing process is modeled after a similar and successful police-service program, the OAFC said.

Presently, in Ontario, several community colleges and other institutions offer pre-service firefighter programs that can cost students tens of thousands of dollars. Under the current system, prospective firefighter candidates may not learn until after they have completed these expensive programs that they do not have the aptitude or interpersonal skills necessary to become a firefighter. The new system allows potential candidates to complete the aptitude and interpersonal skills tests first to ensure they qualify to become firefighters, then do other training.

Further, the OAFC said in its briefing notes that CTS will be in a position to defend each test and the testing process if it challenged under human rights legislation.

The OAFC said the candidate testing service will be available to fire departments and prospective recruits on April 14.

Municipalities that want to participate in the program must sign an agreement with Ontario Fire Administration Inc. under which they take applications only from candidates who are CTS certified; CTS will let successful candidates know when departments are recruiting.

There is no cost for participating municipalities, said OAFC executive director Richard Boyes. The program will be funded through the candidates’ testing fees. Candidates will pay a one-time fee of less than $700, which includes all the testing, and can then apply to as many departments as they choose. As it stands now, candidates spend several hundred dollars to apply to each department and must go through each department’s testing process.

Municipalities that already have pools of tested and successful candidates from which to choose can participate in the CTS immediately but interview from their own lists until they are depleted.

Toronto Fire Services has bought into the program and will announce its 2014 recruitment next week. TFS Chief Jim Sales at Thursday’s news conference that the new program will enhance the diversity of the department’s firefighters and will ensure that candidates meet the requirements to become a firefighter before they enter costly educational and training programs.

“Good potential candidates may have been discouraged by the uncertainty of the hiring process and the time and financial commitments required,” he said.

“This system offers a concrete option for parents wanting to invest in their children’s futures.”

FESTI’s Dwayne MacIntosh said the partnership with the OAFC’s Ontario Fire Administration Inc., which will administer the candidate testing service, complements the vision of the training institute.

“The new candidate testing service is more economical, transparent and fair for candidates who wish to become firefighters in the province of Ontario,” he said.

For candidates, the process includes several steps:
• firefighter information and outreach – details such as medical requirements and resume guidance
• candidate self-selection – a questionnaire to determine whether the potential candidate meets standard requirements, plus an explanation of the process and fees, and registration information
• candidate registration – the candidate selects testing dates and times, registers, and receives a pre-test guide
• testing (1) – aptitude and interpersonal skills testing, which are valid for 24 months
• testing (2) – medical assessment, which is valid for 12 months, a clinical assessment (valid for six months) and a CPAT orientation
• CPAT test plus a technical skills assessment based on NFPA standards (both valid for 12 months)
• CTS certification – candidates who pass will receive a certificate and can apply to a licenced municipal fire service.
• Application for employment

The OAFC has established an advisory board to update and revise the candidate testing service as necessary.