Step 2: Assessment Center Exercises
Battalion Chief Paul Lepore
The term “Assessment Center” often sends promotional candidates into frenzy. It is unfamiliar to many people and as a result their already increased anxiety over the promotional process is heightened. The purpose of this article is to shed some light on the process. No department wants to have quality candidates get lost in the testing process, rather it’s an opportunity for those who have prepared for the position be rewarded for their efforts. I don’t believe in “having a bad day.” I believe that those who have not prepared for the position are identified during the testing process. I do not advocate studying for the exam, I believe in studying for the position.
“Assessment Center” is a fancy way to refer to a series of examinations. Some common components of an assessment center are:
• Tactical Scenario (often called a job simulation exercise)
• Oral Interview
• Employee Counseling Session
• Oral Presentation (more information in Step 3)
• In-Basket Exercise
Of course, your promotional examination may include all, or some, of the events listed above. Each fire agency has the choice of what they want to include in their testing process.
Many departments elect to use an outside consultant to administer their exam and have their candidates evaluated by outside fire department raters. The purpose of external evaluators is to lessen the chance of favoritism, which in turn lessens the chance the exam, will be protested by an unhappy candidate. Many agencies do not allow the candidates to interact with the raters. Some agencies allow the candidates to greet the evaluators, but require them to introduce only by using their assigned candidate number. Whichever the case, the consultant’s goal is to reduce the chance of biased rating.
The fire chief usually greets the raters. He or she will provide some background about the department and answer any department-related questions. He will share any particular challenges currently being experienced by the department and share his vision for the future. The fire chief will always make one thing clear to the raters: if the candidate is not ready to assume the position tomorrow, they are to be scored in a way that reflects this.
Performing on game day is your biggest challenge. I encourage each candidate to take the time he or she would have invested in researching the exam and put it into studying his or her own department’s policies and procedures.
Whether it is a private consultant or an in-house person who is assigned to write the promotional exam, the process is usually the same. A committee is formed and they meet with the fire chief. The fire chief will explain what he is looking for in the group to be promoted. This will include any current events in the fire service as well as political and/or social events that may be impacting the fire service. For example, if the department has had a challenge with racial relations a wise candidate would have a plan on how he or she could improve them. If the department had a fire that did not go as planned I would expect to see a similar event on the tactical portion of the exam. If the department has a problem with firefighters following the proper procedures when returning to work following an injury, I would expect an interview question regarding the injury procedures.
One of the most common scenarios that come to mind is with the Rapid Intervention Crew (RIC). I understand that in different parts of the country it is called Rapid Intervention Team. For the purpose of this article I will refer to it as RIC. We will give you a scenario that requires a lot of resources be committed early in the incident. The OSHA policy states that anytime firefighters are committed in an environment that is determined to have immediate danger to life and/or health (IDLH) a RIC team must be established. Candidates struggle with the idea of not putting enough hose lines into effect quickly enough. To compensate for this they elect to forego RIC and assign a company to put in an additional hose line. As a chief officer who has managed a few fires, I understand the desire to get water on the fire. I also believe that the RIC policy was written for a reason. Committing firefighters to an IDLH without a rescue problem is a clear violation of the policy. More importantly, it completely goes against our number one rule, firefighter safety! This is an automatic failure of the tactical.
Paul Lepore is the author of the best-selling series of career how-to books for firefighters. You can buy them directly from the FireLink Bookstore