Battalion Chief Paul Lepore
One of the important aspects of being a firefighter is community involvement. This comes in many forms. To some it may be as a little league or soccer coach, while others are involved in the boys and girls club. Some may be active at church. Whatever you choose to do, it is important to be active in the community.
Many candidates tell me that they have so much going on, they do not have time to get involved in their neighborhood. Although they would like to make a difference in the community, there are just not enough hours in the day. What is important is not the number of hours spent helping others, but rather the purpose of your involvement. It is key to understand that the fire service is looking to hire people with a certain character and makeup.
The desire to be active in the community should come from within. It should be done for the right reasons, not because it will look good on an application. Frequently an applicant will inquire as to what would look best to a fire department, an involvement at the homeless shelter or becoming a little league coach. Unfortunately, these candidates are completely missing the point. You should not be doing these activities because they look good on a resume; rather, they are the right things to do.
Take a moment to reflect on the man or woman in your neighborhood who is involved in a positive way. He or she is always striving to make the world a better place and is a positive influence in society. Imagine if you put a firefighter badge and uniform on this person. It is not difficult to imagine all of the good he or she could do. If you can recognize what a good person he or she is, so can everyone else. This is the quality of the candidate we are looking for in the fire service.
Take an introspective look at yourself. When you tell people you are going to be a firefighter, do they say, “Really? I can’t picture you as a firefighter.” If they say, “Yes, I can see from the way you conduct yourself that it is a natural transition for you. In fact, I would like to introduce you to my friend who is a firefighter and perhaps he could help you out.” If the latter is the reception you receive from your friends and acquaintances, you are probably on the right track.
The general public has a high degree of respect for firefighters. There is an expectation of how firefighters conduct themselves both on and off duty. If the people who know you best can see you in the role, this is probably a good barometer. If, on the other hand, they are surprised at your decision, it may be a good time to look in the mirror for a reality check.
This is not to say that fire departments are looking for community activists to become firefighters; rather, it helps them identify candidates with the attributes they are seeking. If it works well in the community, it works well for the fire department.
The fire service is about being unselfish. It is a way of life. Firefighters are continually volunteering on their days off to help out with things that are for the benefit of others. Much of our off-duty time is spent visiting sick children in the hospital, putting a roof on the home of an elderly widow who is on a fixed income, or pouring concrete at one of the fire stations.
Whatever the request, there is always somebody on the job with the expertise who is willing to lead the project. It is critical to have worker bees to help get the job done. If volunteering your time is not a priority to you before you get hired, what would convince the fire chief that you would be willing to volunteer your time after he or she hires you? Again, it is a way of life for most firefighters.
Some fire departments will bring up community involvement as part of the structured interview. Most candidates will struggle with this question. It may not be that they have nothing to say; rather, they have volunteered for the right reasons and are not seeking recognition. These candidates can usually respond well if they simply compose their answer. A candidate, however, who does nothing for the community will certainly not score well in this aspect of the interview.
Presenting your volunteer activity in an interview is difficult to do without boasting. It is akin to making a donation at church and then telling everyone how much money you gave. The fact that you boasted about it cancels out the good deed. It is more important to do the good deed for the right reasons than to try to get “credit” for doing so.
An opportune time to mention that you are involved in community activities would be during the initial question, “Tell us about yourself.” Another place would be to bring it up in the closing statement. You could present it by stating that you are aware that being a firefighter involves much more than working “eight to eight and then out the gate.” There is an expectation that every firefighter will become involved in fire department or community activities on his or her days off.
I refer to this as leading the board. If they want to inquire as to what you meant, they will ask more about it. If they do not choose to pursue it, you can assume they know what you are talking about. Whichever the outcome, it is important that you are prepared to discuss your community involvement.
Community involvement comes from within. If you are struggling to “find” something to get involved in, then you are not getting the message. Get involved with groups, activities, or functions that you believe in. They are a statement about who you are. Your time is the most valuable gift. Use it wisely on things you believe in, not on what other people think you should.