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By the time you get a call to interview for a fire chief job, the town council or deputy fire chief has already investigated your career history, and you’ve probably passed all the physical tests and written exams required for the job. The interview process is designed to get to know you personally and find out if you possess the principles espoused by the department, and that you’ll make a good fit with the crew you will be leading.
Expect some personal questions during the interview. You might be asked to share your daily physical fitness routine or talk about what kind of exercise you regularly participate in. Most likely your interview will be conducted by a panel, which might consist of leaders within the company as well as administrators overseeing the department. Panel members might have varying agendas, so expect personal questions to range from why you got into the firefighting in the first place to where you expect to lead the company in five years.
Panel members want to get a feel for the kind of leader you will be. They might ask what you would do in a situation where you saw a rookie who was about to make a mistake. This question is usually meant to determine your management philosophy -- whether you are more inclined to micromanage every move, or let team members make mistakes as long as they don't lead to serious injuries. Relay your own experience about how you learned from your mistakes, and how that might guide your decisions as a chief. Most companies prefer to hire a chief who can delegate and trust his crew. You might also be asked how you will help underperforming firefighters improve their skills and techniques.
While your training and experience as a firefighter are part of your official record, interviewers will also want to know what other kinds of training you’ve undergone to prepare for the role of chief. Talk about the seminars and courses you’ve taken to improve your leadership skills, such as the Executive Fire Officer Program through the U.S. Fire Administration. Bring copies of the certificates you earned in classes such as the Principles of Building Construction and the USFA's online course, Awareness of Command and Control Decision-Making at Multi-Alarm Incidents.
Interviewers will watch and listen carefully to your answers to gauge your style of communication, so you want to remain friendly yet confident when you answer questions and relate your personal history. Speak in a clear voice and maintain eye contact with your interviewers. A fire chief needs to make quick decisions, so you should be prepared with stories and examples of how the decisions you made in past jobs led to positive results. Also, be prepared to describe how you will ensure that team members are kept abreast of any changes within the department, and how you will communicate instructions clearly and effectively during periods of crisis. Demonstrate that you can think on your feet, remain calm under pressure and provide succinct, thoughtful answers.
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."