Become a Firefighter press here

The Hero School presents...
Become a Firefighter  
by Captain Dave Merino (retired)

First Edition
Conditional Job Offer……………………………….………………....………7-12
Chapter 1
7 Fire Service Steps………………………………...………...…………………..15
The Goldilocks Department……………………….……………17-19
Narrowing Your Search.………………...…………..………………19
Experiment Now!……………………..…………..…...……..……20-22
Irons in the Fire…………………………...……………..……...……..22
Chapter 2                                                                                                              
Job Postings and the Application …………………………..23-24
The Test……………………………………..……………………….……..25
The Scorer………………………………………..………….………..26-27
        Nine Impossible Questions………….………………...….…..28-29
        MINIMUM QUALIFICATIONS………………………....…………30
        “Introvert or extrovert? Why?”………………………....……37-38
        “What Do You Do for Recreation?”…………….…..…….……38
        Three high-scoring approaches…………………...…..……39-40
        “Receiving conflicting orders”………………………...………41-42
        “Witnessed unethical behavior?”………….…………...……43-44
“Expediency vs. accuracy, why?”…………………….…....……45
Chapter 3
Test Day(s)…………………………………………………………………….……49-50
THAT VOICE…………………………………………………….……..…50
Chapter 4
Knowing the Audience……………………………….……………52-53
The Talk…………………………………………………..………………55-57
Contemplating Your Medium………………..……………………58
First Know……………………………...…………………….…………58-59
A B C = ADD | BUILD | CORRECT……………………..…………59
Chapter 5
Chief Interview………………………………………………………..……………60
How to Tap Into the Brain’s Biases…………….……..………61-62
At Your Level……………………………………………………………62-64
If you only practiced and studied………………………..………65
Growth Mentality Prevails……………..……………..…………65-66
        The Awkward Pause………………………………….……..………67-68
Chapter 6
*FLASH LESSON*………...……………………………………..………70
The Succession Plan…………………...…………………….…………71
Background Check Questionnaire……………...………....…….71
Harris’ Truth……....………..………..……………………....……………72
The Lying Lie Detector……………….………………..……………73-74
Chapter 7
Conditional Job Offer………………………………..………………..…………..75
Contingencies & Signs…………………………...……….……………76
Bias for the Employer…………………………...……….…………..77-78
Engine 182……………………………………………………………...…….80




This manual is intended for dedicated students of the firefighting profession. The author presents lessons in colloquialisms common within the California Fire Service. Contents may seem vulgar to general audiences; discretion is advised. The author makes no apologies for any offense taken, as he deems it appropriate to immerse the student in all facets of an emergency responder’s life.

I want to make you more knowledgeable about Firefighting. These lessons will help you obtain the knowledge you need to be successful. You will find the content to be friendly reading that’s easy to follow.

Thoughts manifest as you allow the words freedom to move in your mind—the core idea begins to take shape. We are incubating your ideal working environment as the content evolves, enabling you to acquire a clearer picture of where you would be happiest.

To help you reach your goal, we go beyond standard training, adding one more component to accentuate (or “season to taste”) your desire to be a firefighter in California. We want you to be able to blow the competition out of the water!

There are seven steps you MUST know if you are considering a job in the fire service. Most candidates stop short of the full process.

They go off and study an abundance of test questions, then apply to any agency that’s hiring. For them, success is arbitrary, and so is their future. They just drive blind and hope for accomplishments.

Unfortunately, it’s only after they get a conditional job offer, and possibly leave behind a more robust income source, that the scary life lessons begin. So before anything else, you should ask yourself this important question: “Do I want to be a firefighter, and do I want to do it at the workplace of my dreams?" IF these are your goals, then say it out loud so the Fire Gods can hear you own it.

Getting you a job as a firefighter is easy. I want to make you a NINJA HERO, or we’ll just say, Intelligent Hero. If I’m really lazy I’ll just say Hero, but please know that I want your success. Everyone needs success, and I can get you there, but only if you reciprocate with sweat equity and dedication.

Luckily, I can quickly weed out those who aren’t meant to be firefighters. These candidates are easy to spot due to their lack of effort.

For instance, if you’re unmotivated, you will not read all of my words. At times, the content will feel like it is dragging on or getting repetitive. I do this because we need to develop your reading comprehension and attention to detail.

Also, patience will be a precious commodity, with mystical properties. If you can make it through both my short and long passages without breaks in your attention, you will be doing the mental exercises you need to withstand any situation. When stress is at its highest during an incident, you will need to keep calm. The key to calm is patience.

If you skip over passages, you will not be successful at this “sport.” It will mean that you skip other things, too, because you have know-it-all syndrome. I call it the 20/30 delusion—being 20 years old, but thinking you have 30 years of experience. This makes you a ticking time bomb for the poor individuals under your command.

However, if you are not initially successful at this sport, there is still hope! Here is a suggestion: Learn to say, “I don’t know.” Say it more than any other phrase you have ever said.

If you are not successful and want to blame someone else, you do not belong in the service of humanity. Your ego must achieve containment, meaning that you have domesticated your emotions so you can be open to new ideas. Blaming others means you lack the self-correcting power of humility.

We need Intelligent Heroes, as it is time for the fire service to evolve in how we conduct business. Our current business model is unsustainable and extremely fragile. Pensions and healthcare obligations are two giant cans that are no longer kickable farther down the road. They siphon such large chunks of operating revenue that the term “misappropriation of available funds” is hard to even make sense of anymore.

We are being called to rebuild, faster and better than before. With you reading these words, the new system begins to take shape. The ideas become scaffolding and lay out a path for your success. Absorb the ideas and philosophy behind what an Intelligent Hero is. In doing so, you will help push this evolution along.

I’m not just going to kick you into success and get you hired. My job is bigger than that. I am out to turn an abundance of you into Intelligent Heroes, so you can survive and triumph. Once we get you hired, we get you smarter, and keep getting you smarter until you are literally pulled up through the ranks. This process is referred to as Intellectual Lift, and it’s a “two for the price of one” sale. You get hired and rise, and we repair this fragile system.

The way I have structured this course, anyone of any rank will learn something. It will make you more professional, and we all know that professionals are intelligent about their work.

Just keep working, and you’ll find that others notice your progress before you do.

But don’t skip. Breathe, take breaks, but NEVER skip.

7 Critical Steps in the Fire Service
* Prepare
* Apply
* Test Day(s)
* Follow Up
* Chief Interview
* Background/Polygraph
* Conditional Job Offer



Knowing these seven steps—REALLY knowing them— is vital to your success. As we proceed through each one, stay focused on your goal; remember that these steps hold the key to finding and working at the fire department of your dreams. The ratio of aspiring firefighters to available firefighter positions is very high.

That means firefighter vacancies can become ULTRA competitive. You can easily be edged out by an arbitrary fraction of a point. Worse, the points include extra credit and other award systems that defeat the purpose of competitive exams meant to ensure merit-based hiring. Worse still, once you get a job, it might still be taken away from you.

Pause for a second here. I need you to think about how well you can research your next employer. This sounds weird, but it really matters.


Your new fire department can create major obstacles for you. Imagine having huge, everyday-life financial obligations. Now go one step further, and imagine being your children’s sole provider and having to feed them.

Hold that image in your mind. Now let’s add to the image a bully, who comes along and gets you fired for no reason other than they consider you a threat. Remember, the fire service is a system built on scarcity of jobs. So to the bully, you threaten their children’s next meal. I need you to see your next employer in the same context; they will see you as a liability. And they’ll be a liability for you, too, at least until you can find enough value to tip the scales.

Ask yourself this question: “What makes this fire department an asset worth risking financial ruin over?” Remember, it’s extremely rare that they will see you as an asset until long after your probation period. You are something to be rattled, studied, probed, antagonized, humiliated and demoralized. I disagree; I think they are doing it all wrong. I think you are an asset who should be extremely careful when choosing where to perform your service.

Try to internalize this view and see yourself as an asset. Begin to build your inner confidence, knowing that a fire service CANNOT exist without a human. You will be a highly prized item if you can outperform the competition. If you follow my steps, that will be easy.

So research and study a fire department, REALLY study it.

Performing a Warren Buffet-style investigation into your next employer will reveal whether an idiot could run the place. Or that an idiot already is running the place. Either way, you will know the signs.

You need to understand whom you’re going to work for. They will hold you in financial slavery that could break your will.

“Understanding” means going beyond the surface, digging deep to find any clue to what your future holds.

“Knowing” is one level of awareness, but it isn’t enough. We need true understanding to be secure in our decisions. Confidence to move mountains only comes from moving mountains.

You can know which fire departments are hiring, and what they pay. But there are far more important questions, like which departments are firing firefighters during their probation periods.

Prudence dictates that you get to know the fire department, inside and out. This chapter will teach you what to look for. I have the experience, and know how to share this education with you. Training firefighters up to the black-belt level is not a hard thing for me to do. All I need is for them to ask.

You asked, so I get to tell you that hiding within these sentences, pictures and quotes is an expanded education. There are crucial fibers of knowledge interwoven amongst the bullets.

Just making firefighters is easy. I’m after the Intelligent Hero, so please take the time to study every word. If you feel a strong urge to skip, that is because I am INTENTIONALLY steering the lesson to help you develop greater patience. Patience is paramount as a probationary firefighter, which is your next phase after being hired. So work hard to resist the skipping temptation.

In fact, if you’ve read every word so far, I’m betting there have already been several instances when you wanted to jump ahead. If you did skip, I encourage you to start over and not skip this time. Work on your patience; you’ll have better success for it.


Your First Patience Exercise Is Complete! How did you do? Did you skip ahead already? If so, don’t beat yourself up too much. Just try harder next time, because one thing a Captain loves is a firefighter who can sit still.

These seven steps constitute the logical progression of most firefighter testing in California. In examining this process, you will:

* Prepare – Discover your “Goldilocks” fire department painlessly; Special Exercise Included.
* Apply – Learn the employment application, and how to optimize your answers.
* Test Day(s) – Gain a better understanding of what is expected.
* Follow Up – Choose the “medicine” that fits best.
* Chief Interview – See things through a different lens.
* Background/Polygraph – Feel the need to tell the truth.
* Conditional Job Offer – Understand your employer’s new advantage. (You will have to follow similar patterns of thought when you are ready to rise through the ranks.)

I want you to get hired and be successful. If you are intelligent enough to read this magical book, obviously God wants these things, too. Since it’s never a good idea to prove God wrong, keep reading and become an INTELLIGENT HERO!

Unfortunately, in the fire service, there’s always competition. It is a structure built upon scarcity, all the way up to the top. You will become the bottom tier in a hierarchical chaos. A person promoted past their level of competency with zero mentoring is a recipe for disaster. You will see bad decision makers get promoted and continue making bad decisions. If they’re young enough, those bad decisions can stretch out over many years.


Now that you are in this book, you will have a significant advantage over your competition. Did I mention there is a lot of it? The people gunning for Your job could include the same firefighters who asked me the questions quoted in this book.

The steps you are going to learn here are commonly overlooked by many others wanting to work as firefighters. They are also commonly overlooked by many others already in the fire service. So ask yourself, “At what point is illiteracy a choice?”

Mastery first requires a quest for knowledge. An inner thirst for more knowledge, call it curiosity, is the sole prerequisite. Whether it is sparked by your own ambition, peer pressure, or sheer embarrassment, I don’t really care. I don’t suggest just learning this stuff; make total mastery your mission! This “quest” is what determines your level of Intelligence. Remember to stay focused on your goal.

Here is your starting point:
“I want to improve my fire service testing skills.”

Do you know all of the steps to getting hired as a firefighter? By now you should say:
* Prepare
* Apply
* Test Day(s)
* Follow Up
* Chief Interview
* Background/Polygraph
* Conditional Job Offer

In this lesson, we discuss the seven components of fire service testing. Learn all you can about these, and watch the job offers pour in.

In testing to hire a firefighter, or even better to promote one, the smallest thing is analyzed. Every item you write, every half of an answer, could determine your chances of success or failure.

Sometimes, we just watch you in the parking lot. Why?

There are few better methods of evaluation than observing something in its natural habitat. While the evaluators might not notice your parking prowess, little gets past the watchful eyes of Penn and Teller once you exit your vehicle.

Improvement will come once the process is demystified.


FACT: Intelligence and knowledge are directly proportional to the level of seeking and application. We call people intelligent when they readily acquire new skills and, most importantly, apply what they’ve learned.

You, my friend, are halfway to becoming an Intelligent Firefighter. I can give you the knowledge; you must be the one to apply it, which brings us to our First Rule.

Rule #1 – Don’t be confrontational. This is simple: treat everyone you see as a brother or sister. If this seems difficult to do, just focus on being nice to them for now. You don’t know when or where it will happen, but they will need you. Once you are employed, the people around you become, in effect, your customers. So why not treat everyone like your customer from the beginning? Your effort sets the tone.

PRACTICE FOR MASTERY– Practice Unconditional Helping, which means helping without keeping score. Helping others is a proven remedy for depression and a host of other ailments. Beneficial hormones are secreted in your body every time you act with compassion. This is not an accident; it’s key to our survival!

If you cannot handle people on the street, you will not survive in the service. They are the essence of your purpose.

In blunt terms, they pay the bills. Find a way to see people differently. Look for ways to attach yourself, to let them know you care.


If you can gradually bring your inner thoughts into line with peaceful and loving intentions, life gets so much easier. “Those People” will morph into agents of potential, becoming “My People.” This transformation makes it easier to guide and manage them in their time of direst need. Trust me, when someone thinks they are dying, all cordiality goes out the window. And that, my friend, is the easy part! If you think a 15-minute exposure to a not-so-desirable person on the street is bad, wait until you must live with him at the station.

The fire station becomes an absolute disaster when two of the three people there hate each other’s guts. The infighting quickly grows caustic and contagious. This arena isn’t “dog-eat-dog”; nope, it’s a dog-beaten-by-Michael-Vick world if you aren’t prepared.

Rule #2 – Being prepared means knowing the place of everything. In cooking, it’s referred to as everything in its place. This book will help you understand the right place of everything related to getting a job in the fire service.

Granted, the world still needs firefighters, herein referred to as heroes, but the firefighters need to be Intelligent Heroes. Our heroes need to not only seek knowledge, but also apply it as the essential follow through.

Otherwise, our heroes will only be receivers, not the ardent seekers we need for the future. BE A SUCCESSFUL SEEKER!

Chapter 1

Did you read every word of the Introduction? If not, go back and read it NOW, because you need to work on your patience.

We’re working on:

7 Fire Service Steps



If your preparation is lousy, none of the other steps will matter. So let’s follow Maria Von Trapp’s advice and start at the very beginning...


Any decent instructional course begins with an emphasis on preparation. To best prepare you, we will begin with the end in mind. So after reading this passage, practice the following exercise.

Visualize Utopia: Sit in a peaceful place and imagine your ideal fire department. Ask yourself, are they happy to see you? Open your eyes for brief moments, and then close them for periods to see yourself in a seat of the fire engine. See yourself being driven down the street and waving at the kids. Always be ready to wave at kids!

This sort of simple practice propels you forward. If you cannot visualize yourself as a firefighter, you will never elevate yourself above the competition. There are hundreds of others like you, seeking a chance to get into the service. Most will stumble because of a lack of drive. The urge to quit will take hold of you a million times over the next 20 years, so be quick to notice its slippery slope.

Visualizing gives your mind the vital light at the end of the tunnel. If you do not see that light, you will want to quit. This I guarantee. Do you see yourself yet? Keep practicing before moving forward. These are the mental push-ups you need to prepare to scale your future hurdles. Never Give Up!


The Goldilocks Department

* Activate your “noticing skillset”: People will call you Superman/woman.
* Improved technique: Be at the finish line, with the smell of freshly cut grass. As you begin the practice, allow yourself to daydream. Do nothing more than observe the situation. For the first week, simply visualize. Your mindset will automatically transfer to a non-daydreaming state later.

We are exercising a Hero skill that allows you to be the first to act. Heroes always seem to be in the right place at the right time. They notice someone is in danger and spring into action. You don’t get to think about it. You have to act on it, NOW.

“Noticing” something becomes instinctive. You recognize patterns sooner than others; you have heightened vision. I promise you, eventually, you’ll be shocked by how many people don’t notice what they walk past, or over and grossly through.

We’ve needed to spend some time on your mental game because that is your foundation. On the surface, it appears that I just asked you to emulate what the Blue Angels do prior to every air show.

The larger lesson comes when you “notice” that your whole being is controlled by what you choose to focus on. If I can get you to focus on your goal, it will be easier for you to achieve it.

However, the biggest dose of medicine comes from your repeated practice of keeping calm and collected. There will be times when you want to come unglued, and others do. They will tend to regret that lack of restraint later.

Back to visualization! Now that you’ve taken the elephant by its huge ears, tame that beast and breathe deep. Eyes open; feel the shirt you wear as a uniform.


Sit with good posture! Realize every bit of height you have to keep your spine straight as a board. Take a deep breath, then breathe out and let your muscles relax.

When the public looks at you and sees you slouching, they will know that you are not acting to your full potential. Both posture and gait are weighed heavily by testing evaluators, too. When you walk, think “Best in Show,” but without the sad, spineless dude prancing alongside you. DO NOT let them put a leash on you, because they will try to break your spirit.

Have you noticed yourself at all while reading this? Still seeing a fire department you would marry? Were you just at the dog show with me? Hopefully, you are starting to see where this is going: Mental space is your battlefield. Your current task is purely mental, to simply imagine your ideal fire job. Some people don’t like cities; others don’t like hills and farmland. It’s best to learn where you stand before you get hired. This is when your inner Hero is forming a desire, so don’t be surprised if you feel uncontrollable excitement and a sense of urgency. Once you’ve felt the presence of this driver, let it run wild.

Do you see yourself in a congested metropolitan area like San Francisco? Cars honking at you, noise, pollution, and people everywhere.

Be there! Swim in it! Smell the frustration and diesel exhaust. Hear the sound of large rubber tires burning through an intersection underneath the screaming growler.

Be there, sit in it! You get to hang your biceps out the window, or make those demonstrations of airplane lift with your hand. You can do it, too!


Be there, own it! Maybe a neighborhood fire station has always grabbed your eye, like Station 35 in Los Angeles County always did for me. You see yourself mowing the lawn, stroking the fire engine or walking down the street to get gyros from Bubba’s Burgers. Everyone is waving at you! Just remember to sweep the freshly cut grass out of the apparatus bay.

These dreams can be yours, but as with being an Intelligent Firefighter, you must apply what has just been said to be successful. Grab that bull by the horns!


Narrowing Your Search
In this lesson, you will learn how to refine your inner communication and organize thoughts so a list takes shape. The goal is to have a Final Three in mind as we progress. These cherished three departments will be our targets, and all others will be strategically used as free training. If you really want to get good at something, then repetition is key. Want to get good at fire service tests? Take as many as you can, because practice makes perfect!

Unfortunately, it’s not actually that simple. In the fire service testing process, sometimes we borrow evaluators from other agencies. This means that you could see the same evaluator for multiple tests at multiple agencies. This can be a double-edged sword: Do well, and no one cares because you got hired; however, if you screw up, your face will be remembered.

Fear not, we will devise a strategy, so you don’t inadvertently harm your chances while experimenting.

Experiment Now!

Perform this exercise to bring clarity to what you want in your future employer:

  * Write what appears most in your visualizations. Keep in mind that your inner communicator is six years old, speaking in one-word images or symbols. Visualize as often as possible to filter the noise from the signal.

  * Update: Include strenuous physical activity during quiet visualization. Firefighter testing means thinking while exhausted.

The physical act of writing, whether typing or by hand, is a meditation in itself. If you are bouncy, your writing will reflect it. Writing is an essential skill for the Intelligent Hero, and we both know practice will improve things, so why not start immediately? We write what is in our minds.

After a 10-minute visualization, write down what you saw on a piece of paper. Write in one-word groupings if possible; it might help to re-close your eyes now and then. Certain words and images will percolate upward as common signs or symbols for your real desire.

When you have the image, hold it and judge your level of emotion. If you get sweaty and nervous, the image should be taken as the opposite of what you really want.

Let me give you an example: Bryan grew up in Long Beach, where he met his wife and began his firefighting career. His internal narrative seemed to draw him to Northern California, away from the city and hustle. He wanted land and horses and a truck and boots, and the smell of horse manure and dusty driveways and hot summers. He wanted that all desperately. The plan was to go from a large fire agency to a small agency. By the way, one heuristic for department size is that if the Fire Chief knows your name, it’s a small department.

Then there he was, at his new fire department and losing his mind because people didn’t do things his way. Possibly childish, but absolutely not! He had come from an amazing department, but like football players, firefighters need to redefine themselves with a new team. Bryan failed to understand that the culture he sought to live in was not like the one he wanted to serve in. The smell of horse manure should not be in the station.

Let’s go through the practice so far, and see where Bryan could have saved himself a few ulcers.

#1 – Visualize to Prepare: We don’t need to go any further than this, really. Had Bryan taken the time to sit quietly for just 10 minutes and notice what he was seeing, he would have observed: medium call volume; various types of emergencies; suburbia; cutting the lawn and going to Bubba’s Burgers; back at the station with a push broom in his hands. Things he already had and loved.

Small-town slow call volumes fuel boredom. As the boredom drives you crazy, a sense of misdirection can ensue. This is why we work to understand our own limits. It prevents us from hating our future employers.

Now switch places with Bryan. You simply write down single words, if possible, for everything you NOTICE during your visualizations. Once the words sit in front of you, Bryan’s decision looks quite silly. But he did it and he was miserable. The misery affects everyone around him. Focusing on what he noticed, rather than what he “knew,” could have saved this Hero a bunch of pain.

The amount of background investigation a fire agency conducts on you is far less than what you should be doing on them. Financials, embarrassments, politician ties, cover-ups, critics and the agency’s destructive or productive management processes are all right there for you to study.

Think about it. Whatever agency you choose, joining it will require personal sacrifice. Your irrevocable and unrecoverable time will be laid down for a group of people (the city/town), alongside a group of people (the department). Do your background work and know both groups thoroughly!

Irons in the Fire: 3 Best Prospects vs. Too Many Mates

Now we narrow down your ideal department list to three final contenders. They should share a likeness with each other; if they don’t, you haven’t noticed enough.

This is where you need to decide. There is a jumping off point where you need to invest life energy into convincing strangers to trust you. You need laser focus. What happens when you try to date too many people?

Loyalty is hard for an agency to validate when your eyes are always looking for the next better thing. Smart employers hire for loyalty because of the tremendous cost of firefighter training. More critical and to the point: Services suffer when the system is always playing “human resource catch-up.” You will not be considered if they feel you are a flight risk. I wouldn’t hire you. No one will.

Create an HONEST short list of three.

Now that we’ve narrowed down to our three most desirable fire departments in the whole wide world, it’s time to shift to Mastering Fire Service Exams.

Chapter 2

Job Postings and the Application

        Now that you can identify which fire departments you should work for—and which ones to avoid—we wait patiently for one of them to post a job announcement. Then we POUNCE!

Download the department’s job application and make several copies. One of them will become the masterpiece that pushes you toward the job of your dreams.

Remember: If you are doing these lessons correctly, your truth will push you forward in the process. So long as you stay honest in what you do and say, you will continue to evolve. This includes owning up to your mistakes.

It’s a slow process that rewards patience.

Speed adds blind spots. If you rush things, or even worse, foist yourself on a department that isn’t ready to hire, you increase your chances of getting rejected. Has this happened to you already? After we go through the seven steps, you should be able to identify past errors and prevent them from happening again. This could mean avoiding one particular fire department like the plague.


Don’t fear rejection; it could be a blessing in disguise! Rejection could just mean that the agency simply isn’t for you. There, I said it. Some fire departments put on a fine show, but deep down inside, they are falling apart at the seams. You, the candidate, should never be blamed for a crappy fire department running an undesirable hiring process, but it happens. You get denied and think it was something you could and should have prevented. This could easily happen to you.

Don’t fail to prepare adequately! Thoroughly research each agency’s past hirings and, most importantly, past probations. If the agency has a habit of terminating probationary firefighters, they are careless in their selection process and will hurt you later. Washing out probationary firefighters is a sin! Subjecting the enthusiastic to an obsolete notion of “survival of the fittest,” or “let only the strongest go on,” is destruction in waiting. Smiles disappear instantly with a hit to the face, in every situation! Sometimes, happiness never returns to the scorned.

Habitually releasing probationary firefighters means the agency does not nurture the vulnerable, and is careless with its most important resource, the human. Find somewhere else to work until this agency can get its morals and values together. And watch out for UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT. Sadly, some fire departments are run by novices unwilling to evolve. If they treat humans poorly, they WILL have bigger problems in the future.


The Test

Let’s now turn to nine IMPOSSIBLE questions that can be masterfully answered to improve your chances of being hired. Surviving these questions requires knowing yourself, which will help you give more powerful responses to other test questions, too. The process will make you a better you!

First, you must understand that the evaluators hardly ever write the questions. In interview-style tests, the panels of judges are handed questions to ask and given a point scale to use. Your answers are somehow equated to a numeric value.

“Impossible” questions are referred to this way because they are impossible to fairly score. Usually, we ask questions that can be weighted evenly from person to person. Easy questions have a correct answer, such as 2+1=3. But these questions aren’t going to be as straightforward. Here, we delve into nine abstract questions we ask of candidates. They are designed to evoke much more than words in response.

The first problem with these soul-searching hiring questions is that they lack any form of grading rubric, or “checklist of completeness.” The reality is, I don’t know what I am listening for! If evaluators cannot score according to clear guidelines, they will use their own internal mechanisms, including their biases or prejudices. An agency could inadvertently introduce racism, sexism or any other “ism” when relying on these evaluators’ judgment. After all, we are human, too. So, what’s the point of this? It all comes down to numbers. This is a numbers game, and you need to tilt the numbers in your favor.
Simply, the goal of the testing process is to sort qualified applicants into a numerical ranking, otherwise known as “the list.” This ranked list allows the Decision Maker, also known as the hiring officer, to request, say, #1-27 if they’re running an academy, or #1-4 to cover injuries and other staffing shortfalls, or just the #1 person to prepare for the chief’s retirement. The list determines where you end up after the testing is completed. Your job is to rank highest by capturing as many points as possible.


The Scorer

The evaluator/scorer’s informal job description is one who “listens and divides.” We simply look for those cheating the system: liars, frauds, charlatans, dicks, rabble-rousers, culture destroyers, tumors and “20/30s”—20-year-olds who think they have 30 years’ experience. In addition, the list identifies the un-coachable and anyone who would disrupt crew harmony. The scorer can either be internal to the department, or someone from a neighboring agency.

Your relationship with these evaluators needs to be strategized. If they like you, points are awarded, and if they don’t, good luck. Compounding the challenge is the psychology involved, with hundreds of people just like you trying not to screw up under time restrictions. When everyone is afraid of committing an error, you can have an entire applicant pool of forgettable, and worse, un-remember-able candidates, all taking residence in the dirty motel of averages. They all swim in the same “meh” pool.

Fearful applicants who seek shelter by reaching for safe and easy answers unknowingly take a huge risk. Put another way: “Yes, you made it through the process, but what was your name again?” So how is differentiation gained amongst the droves of men and women vying for the same job? How can you make your lemonade taste better?

The answer lies in knowing your own truth, your honest autobiography. How well you understand your personal history, and how you express it, will set you apart. This alone will cause you to rise above the others, making you not just remember-able, but unforgettable.

Understand that, in large part, the evaluator will NOT know how to make your answering words transmute directly into numbers. When I place a number on that sheet, and this is hugely important, I’m just basing it off every other candidate’s answers.

That’s it! You can capitalize on our “domain dependence,” our need to adapt the scoring to this particular pool of applicants. So long as your answers are educational, engaging and most importantly, DISSIMILAR to others’ answers, you will score exceptionally well.

The process to get hired goes in this order: job announcement, job application, written test, oral test, physical ability test, Chief’s Oral Board (interview), background investigation, conditional job offer, probationary period of 12-24 months. Then, and only then, will you have some job security.

Each step in this process is intended to filter out undesirables. Notice that I said “intended”? Unfortunately, there are people who can game each step, so it all ends up being more theoretical than practical. Still, remember that 99.9% of people follow a doomed routine. They hear that a fire department is hiring, they scramble to meet the minimum qualifications, type up an application, turn it in and watch the mail. This is a one-way ticket to Meh-ville. There is a better path, and it requires adherence to the Delphic advice to “know thyself.”

Let’s work through this series of tough questions in an indirect manner. When you see each question, don’t try to answer it yet. This program is designed to give you multiple views and, in doing so, might change what you really want to say. At the least, we’ll improve how to say it. You will see that by intelligently answering one question, you create a multitude of intelligent answers that will be usable in other areas.

How you answer these nine questions will also steer how you optimize the whole job application. It’s a 2-for-1! So let’s get to them.


Nine Impossible Questions

  1. How would you grade your ability to follow directions?

  2. Describe a time when you acted unethically.

  3. Where do you see yourself in five years?

  4. Please describe some of your strengths.

  5. Would you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert? Tell us why.

  6. What do you like to do for recreation?

  7. Describe what you would do upon receiving conflicting orders?

  8. What would you do if you witnessed unethical behavior?

  9. Please list by importance: Expediency over accuracy, or accuracy over expediency. Why?




Most candidates are so nervous and exhausted from the whole process at this point that they simply plow through these tricky opportunities, giving one-word answers or bland statements like, “Well, I’m a hard worker and a self-starter.” Getting lazy like this is an easy path to what I call the “meh-ean”—meaning take the mathematical mean, and make it as absolutely boring as possible.

Please take this moment to review the nine questions above again. I want you to really appreciate what is happening. You are being given an opportunity to set yourself above the meh-ean. Surprisingly, your best answers may be carved out of what you would write on the application.
So let’s begin with that bland document called the application. What you put in those boxes also answers some of these impossible questions, and vice versa.

The job application might seem mundane, but the State of California requires that this simple piece of paper be filled out and signed. So make it matter.

When considering how you can elevate above the meh-sphere just by filling out a bland application for employment, the fantastic answers are closer at hand than you might think.



The New You: Datable, Culpable and Now Employable

Your first opportunity to score points comes before the big tests, with the job application. During the testing process, the job application will be used to weigh and filter candidates.

It is also used for other things, which we’ll optimize for soon. But for now, we start with the application’s utility as a minimum qualification and literacy sieve.



When a fire department posts a job announcement, the announcement includes what are called “minimum qualifications for selection.” If there are hundreds of applicants for a few openings, the minimum qualifications filter protects an agency from getting overwhelmed. If you do not meet the minimums, your application is easily discarded.



Assuming you are the one trying to fill it out, if you cannot read, your application will expose your illiteracy. Study the application before picking up a pen. You should feel butterflies in your stomach as you read without answering in the boxes. This is normal; you will be tapping into a cognitive bias that we all share. We need completion and are uncomfortable without it. Unfortunately, this sense of urgency usually overrides other considerations, and we miss a lot in favor of temporary comfort.

Domesticate your sense of urgency. Don’t deny or kill it, just domesticate it.

Why? We aren’t just screening for illiteracy; we are also looking for the literate but lazy. Yes, they know how to read, they just choose not to. An undomesticated sense of urgency leads to impatient reading, skipping, missing important key information, blah blah blah … this is the meaning of literate but lazy.

Do yourself a service and calmly read, possibly reread, every word on the application.

Often, the problems of illiteracy and lazy literacy alone reduce an applicant pool enough for us to begin assigning points for the qualified candidates. Now we begin the weighing portion!

To survive this phase, you need to shift perspectives. You will now take on my mindset as the scorer. You are the evaluator, and now the candidate has one purpose in this world: alleviate your fear. Your only device to gauge scariness is the scoring system. Higher points are given for those who are less scary.

An example: Honorably discharged veterans have points automatically awarded. They tend to be less scary, and become successful firefighters. They’ve seen the worst a bureaucracy has to offer, so your department’s issues should be easy for them. As evaluators, you and I are looking for honor. Honor is built with consistency and opportunity, using ethics as scaffolding. As an applicant, your ethics—how you hold yourself accountable—should be well tested and have consistently held strong, regardless of any opportunity costs.

Could you elevate at the cost of someone else? How do you hold yourself accountable?

Are you a rationalizer who delegates the cause of your inexcusable behavior to something other than you? Or are you your own toughest critic?


We are searching for ethical people, willing to sacrifice and work cohesively as part of a successful team. Unethical behavior is cancerous to an organization and must be found and weeded out.

Luckily, if you’ve made a mistake or two in your life, this is not a problem! Acting ethically merely requires a full accounting of your bad actions, and taking steps to ensure that they never recur.

The most ethical people I’ve encountered talk openly about their past woes. They take on the air of learning from their mistakes, the humbled student rather than the defensive victim who is unable to see their errors.

Funny thing about ethical people, too. They don’t rely on cookie-cutter responses like, “I’m a hard worker and an ambitious self-starter.” Instead, they’re naturally engaging because their answers are part of a story that they believe can help others.

What can draw a scorer’s attention to your story? Your application should work as an arrow, enticing and pointing. It could point out something you’ve done, or point towards where you are headed. And here is a bonus secret: know where you want to be. If you have planned years into the future, all that preparation will be reflected in the document being evaluated.

If you haven’t prepared for the fire service, then compared to the applications of those who have prepared, your application will lack congruency with the evaluator’s standards. Keep in mind that evaluators are vulnerable to their own biases and prejudices.

You are being compared to others within the scorer’s mental reach. Meaning: there’s a bias at play, and as we say, it affects your effect. We want to know what resonance you will have with the team, but only in comparison to those in your specific applicant pool. This is domain dependence.

How would you grade your ability to follow directions?
Describe a time when you acted unethically.
Where do you see yourself in five years?


Each one of the above exam questions can be answered easily after learning what we, the evaluators, are looking for. We are looking for people who can follow directions, are non-lazy readers, behave ethically and have a plan for themselves.

Your own five-year plan should be seriously thought out, and must include, at a minimum, becoming a firefighter and passing probation.

The search for the World’s Most Ethical Person—the One who cannot honestly produce an answer to the question about acting unethically, will continue forever and definitely not stop at you. Therefore, you should be prepared to identify a time when you did act unethically, and show that you have learned from it.


How well can you follow directions? Can you articulate the response so that it is not something we have heard hundreds of times already?

This is the “game.” You can get Intelligent, you can get sneaky, or you can just get lazy:
[Evaluator] “How would you grade your ability to follow directions?”
[Candidate] “Oh, I’m somewhere between a B+ and a C-.
[Evaluator] “Unfortunately, you answered correctly.”

Yes, being correct here IS unfortunate. Think about it.

Now think harder. Do you have a situation in your past where it was critical for you to follow directions, and you did? Take it one more step. How responsive were you to the directions?

Now, compare this instance to another real-life situation where things didn’t go so well because you didn’t follow directions. Voila! A balanced answer is masterfully established!
The trick is to grade your own less-desirable situation by setting it against a more robust and validating example of your evolution. Take it all from your own repertoire, remembering that recency of undesirable situations will be held against you. YOU control the evaluation and scoring.

Since you now know what goes on in our heads, you can see that for evaluators, every question is centered on reducing risk. The candidates with the fewest risk factors win the job. But you have an advantage! Your renewed lens is that of the evaluator. Your answers can now be born from what we want to hear, and what we are seeking to shoo away. Produce answers that educate and alleviate fear. Be honest and practice your responses to variations on these questions, so you don’t ever appear stumped.




What is one of the most common questions?
“Please describe some of your strengths.”

This one is a frequent flyer to Meh-ville. Candidate after candidate responds with a one- or two-word answer. When you consider your own strengths, surely there should be too many to describe in one interview. So think instead, “How can I wow them?”

Every candidate has an answer. What do you have as a strength that others don’t?


Your individuality is your only saving grace with this question and, luckily, it is all you need. The evaluator is bored after hours of hearing people like you all saying the same things. You become invisible and replaced with thoughts of … well, anything except you.

It’s this state of evaluator malaise we’re going to capitalize on! All you need to do is perk up my ears with an engaging example, and suddenly you become remember-able. Make like Leonardo, and reserve smaller strokes for finer pictures.
These questions and answers all are brush strokes creating a bigger picture. Every interaction you have can be maximized, right down to the way you sign your name. Paint the picture, big.

Stop and articulate your strengths right now. Aloud. You aren’t silly for doing it, and I am not going to laugh.

The laughter comes when candidates try to verbalize their strengths for the first time, during the test. Oh, what a mess! See if after practicing in a mirror several times, you begin to feel bored, too. Watch your face contort as you struggle with what has been often called the ineffable, things that words can’t express.

It’s not as simple as you might think. Keeping someone’s attention is half the battle; getting them to understand you is the other half. Know your strengths and know how to tell someone about them. Additionally, be able to express those strengths in a way that’s CONGRUENT to what this agency needs, now or soon. That’s an excellent thing to point out, in the right way, during the interview wrap-up.

As you’ll remember from the previous chapter, you discover what the agency needs during the research portion, and apply this knowledge throughout the testing process.


An example: San Diego Fire is looking for recruits. You are given an opportunity to answer the “strengths” question. You have experience in woodworking and you speak Spanish fluently. Two strengths: one has utility for a first responder working amidst a population of Spanish speakers, and the other is helpful in a woodworking studio.

Pick your strengths wisely, and more importantly, never stop adding strengths. Always be working toward another accomplishment, another strength that can be used for humanity.

That approach will get and hold our attention. Who am I kidding, we’ll fall in love with you! Get in the mind of the evaluator to identify which of your many strengths they will view as assets. Compare what you would say with what you can write on the application.

Strategize how you’ll answer all questions first. Take the extra time to find out where the department needs help, and then offer that help by highlighting your strengths in those areas.

Just never tell them that you’ve found where they’re weak, and know how you can help! No fire agency will listen to an applicant who wants to lecture them on what they need.



“Would you consider yourself an introvert or extrovert? Why?”

When I was first asked this question during my own testing, I didn’t know what the words introvert and extrovert meant. So to spare you from reliving my embarrassment:


You should know by now if you are shy, and how debilitating shyness can be. The firefighter position requires a personality that enables you to take on multiple roles. Being a firefighter will require, at once, subservience to a commanding officer, and holding an authoritative presence amidst civilians. This personality dichotomy (NOT conflict) requires instantaneous juggling of roles as student and savior, apprentice and master. Seems hard, right?

Take a shortcut: Commit yourself to always being a student. It helps to repeat it to yourself every hour! “I’m a student.” Your studentness percolates to the top and we notice. For the long haul, a coachable attitude gives you staying power. It keeps you out of bad victim status, always finding someone else to blame.

Now that you’ve learned a mantra-with-dividends for daily (hourly) practice, see if verbalizing your strengths—as one who has been mentored by Life and Nature Herself—now comes easier. Tell that story! I want to hear it! Save me from Monotony Hell!


Pick any agency on California’s beautiful map and see if you can identify strengths you have and how they could be applied there. Remember woodworking? Smaller agencies need skilled labor exceeding firefighter minimum qualifications. I’ve seen candidates picked up because of their carpentry skills or computer server system knowledge, or even movie familiarity. If you write code, there’s an agency that needs you. Don’t discount your experiential assets. Grease under your nails from auto repair? Point out the obvious to us! Tactfully, though!


“What do you like to do for recreation?”

Moving on, a trapping question exists which can lead to significant damage if not approached cautiously: “What do you like to do for recreation?”

As you sit and contemplate your response, know that it will appear disingenuous if you actually have to think. Answering this one should be automatic. It should bring a smile to your face, as you cannot wait to tell the evaluators all about your idea of fun. You think, “My scrapbooking expertise will surely wow them!”

The evaluators do not care what you do for recreation.

The evaluators are not the ones who thought of this question and, from the many boring answers I’ve heard, likely wish they never had to ask it again. Of course, you could try your luck and say recreation is snorting cocaine off a hooker’s belly (I squirted a little piss from that one), but I doubt you’ll get a callback. So how can you benefit from this tricky setup?


Three high-scoring approaches that you can apply in your answer

One approach is to warm the evaluator by using a KNOWN connection. With this strategy, you are avoiding separation/individuality in exchange for primal groupthink acceptance. You are telling the evaluators you are already one of them. Researching the agency helps immensely. What are the Romans doing in Rome? Bathhouses? Why not try Greece?

Work to show likeness, familiarity. “Recreation” is a tripwire to see if you’re an excessive … well, anything, or chasing your youth and trying to remain 21-and-partying forever. Some say they “like to party” for fun—not a professional answer.

The second approach would be to fill a need FOR THE AGENCY that you haven't been able to point out until now. (Side note: Never hold something back in anticipation of the next question, which might never come.)

An example could be that you like to unwind by gardening.

How can this one skill be valuable to this one Goldilocks Agency? Think things through, and you will see that everything can be connected! Who likes gardening besides you? Doing your research, you find that the area you want to work in has a community garden near an elderly population. A “gardening” one-word response to an evaluator is useless. Your “gardening” answer that includes the fact that you are aiming to teach at the community garden for a better harvest ... PRICELESS!

In cycling, the riders in the peloton use the group for protection and energy conservation. When the moment is right, the strong burst through and break away from the pack. The one who has shaved the most off their time as a result of drafting behind others wins critical leverage.

In the third approach, you make your big move. You are breaking away from the “meh-loton” in a calculated burst of energy upon hearing your cue—a chance to return to the question of strengths. This answer is going to be a rehearsed story, your longest answer possible. No other question will get this level of dedication. This can be your tear-jerking moment!


Grandpa used to take you fly fishing, so what? Grandpa taught you morals and honesty through his example and life experiences (be specific); he then took you fishing, and sometimes you can still feel his presence when catching salmon. In fact, “one time when the leaves rustled…” Now we’re working at differentiation, showing uniqueness for the sake of remember-ability. This decision requires committing to absorbing zero-response from the evaluators. Meaning: You own your answer, and know that somewhere inside their minds, something clicked. Maybe they had a friend who did “that” or a relative who loved “this.” You may never know the connection, but think carefully about what you will say, and then commit to it 100%.

What is the winning answer? Your truth, whatever it may be. If it’s a fact you like to garden, can gardening be magically transmuted? Yes! We converted gardening into a powerful tool for maintaining relationships with the biggest voter base. Did you know that the elderly love voting?

Happy voters equate to a happy fire department. Your recreation just informed staff officers that they have someone who can improve customer relations. Do you see the power of perspective? With awareness of our mindset, you can make your answers more genuine, and more importantly, remember-able.

The final group of three IMPOSSIBLE questions are used to determine your code of conduct.

“Describe what you would do upon receiving conflicting orders.”

In this request, evaluators are posing a hypothetical situation in which one person gives you an assignment, and while you’re acting on that request, another officer comes along and reassigns you. This question comes in many forms, but the scorers are simply looking to see what your under-pressure thought process is. We also want to see how you handle something when it APPEARS to have unfavorable results. Granted, this is only an oral board question, so your stress might be minimally elevated, but trust me, when applicants are forced into answering, some silly shit gets blurted out. Remember, this question is used elsewhere in the process in other forms to determine your consistency.

How can we answer and wow the judges? There is no right answer, but here is a clue: Life ALWAYS lives over Property.

We wake, eat and sleep “Life over Property” in the fire service. Those who forget typically pay with unnecessary pain, or worse. Yet while the priorities will always hold life over material things, that doesn’t mean we consistently choose the correct order. First off, the conflicting orders need to be understood. We are listening for the candidates who can show that they know the right order of things, and it begins with Life over Property always.
A quality response comes from having knowledge of the chain of command, and understanding each person’s role.

[Evaluator] “Describe what you would do upon receiving conflicting orders.”
[Me] "Take a deep breath, think of the best answer..."



To describe what I would do upon receiving conflicting orders, I must first understand that in the course of emergency operations, conflicting orders may occur.

“I would FIRST need to recognize and fully understand each order, and triage according to Life over Property. If, at any time, an order repolarizes this alignment, I will be obligated to point it out. My initial action would be to inform the NEW addressing officer that I am currently under orders from the ORIGINAL officer.”

Does this answer tell the evaluator anything about my code of conduct? Nope. It just minimally answers the question. Safe but meh. At first glance, it seems like an articulate answer, and I may get some smiles for pointing out that someone’s life is more important than someone else’s drama. Yes, I answered the question, but we are looking to break away from the group of people all saying the same thing. I want you to pay close attention:

“Describe what you would do upon receiving conflicting orders.”

The evaluator just asked you to describe something, so do it!

Work to ease our fear by showing that you understand the value of following orders. Communication is equally important, however. So we need to hear that you are both keeping your original supervisor informed and addressing the new order giver.
To break away, introduce a life experience in which your decision, right or wrong—preferably wrong—resulted in a learning opportunity, preferably physically painful. Elaborate, don’t be shy.
As evaluators, we are poorly trained and overly relied-upon fortune tellers. Except, we let you do the telling, and simply react to what we hear.

Conflicting orders happen all the time on the fire ground. A captain sends an order to a firefighter and expects it to be completed. If another captain comes along and reassigns the firefighter, this is a conflicting order. It is imperative that the firefighter tell the new captain what they are already expected to do, so the original captain will be notified that their previous orders won’t be fulfilled. Cover these two points while folding in your life lesson, and a memory will be made.


“What would you do if you witnessed unethical behavior?”

Another code of conduct question aims to show where your loyalties are banked. At first glance, this one appears to be easily gamed: simply tell a little lie about what you REALLY would do. Tell them what they want to hear. This is not a solid strategy. There is no way for you to tell me what you WOULD really do and have it be credible. It’s all talk unless the opportunity has presented itself before, and you actually did something.

Have you witnessed unethical behavior? The scorers want you to answer with a narrative that leads to behavioral modification. However, your internal bias is going to work at your halo effect, since “you can do no harm in a halo.”

The last thing an agency desires is the Holier-than-Thou person coming along and providing a “new and improved” moral compass. Usually, it’s the pious ones who are hiding their own unethical behavior, so leave your cross and nails at home.

While it would appear obvious that our points go to the one who can tell Mom the fastest, a tattletale answer won’t educate us. With that approach, you will tell us something, we will place points on a sheet, you will get up and never be seen again. Forgotten.

Sometimes, evaluators are instructed to give points to the individual who makes sure that they were not misreading the alleged unethical behavior. Surely, there must be a Full House episode that taught the dangers of not having your facts straight.

Did you really witness unethical behavior? Maybe you didn’t.

Your “wobble” occurs when you talk yourself out of acting appropriately, or the question hits too close to home.


Candidates answer from the position they have placed themselves in. Quite telling. When fatigued enough from the testing pressure, candidates want to rush their answers. Rushing is quitting, and derails the entire effort!

Hang in there, don’t quit. Know that you will want to quit hundreds of times during your career if you work at the wrong place, so stay strong. Have you ever been exposed to unethical behavior? Don’t understand the question?

We need responsive, but Intelligent, action. We want to know that you will pass what you witnessed up the chain of command, and not spend a lot of time doing your own investigation. “Unethical” is super ambiguous and used as a mechanism for discipline when the act cannot be classified anywhere else, such as a violation of rules/regulation/policy.
To know what true ethical behavior feels like, read Plato’s Republic. Aligning your answers to what is expected of guardians will be the seasoning needed for long-lasting, positive impressions. From where will you approach the response?

Someone who got caught acting unethically in the past seems to act as if we designed the question just for them. They become noticeably anxious and tend to ramble on. Remember your earlier bonus, that an answer offered from the position of a student becomes educational and engaging.

What mindset are we typically comfortable with? Tough Love.

These people are your family. We are not trying to catch someone engaging in unethical behavior. Rather, evaluators want to know if you would compound a problem that fell in your lap. Service can be threatened if anyone fails to uphold accepted values and morals. Sometimes, the nasty kids grow up to become nasty adults. Also, sometimes, our eyes play tricks on us. Balance those two sentiments and the answer will flow easier.
Once you have been able to answer this one with fluidity, review how your new “familial” tone of Tough Love can translate to your job application.

The final question is elegant in how it displays your conduct.


“Please list by importance: expediency over accuracy or accuracy over expediency. Why?”

First notice that we have a “why” in the question. That is an invitation to explain yourself. Whew! Second, there exists a tripwire. We are biased into thinking emergency equals expediency. This is not true! Rather, mindful practice increases expediency potential. Every pro football player is proof.

There are some things we simply cannot afford to do too quickly. Can you rush baking a cake?
We provide services that require high levels of accuracy. The big example staring at us is the administration of controlled substances by paramedics. Every milligram is accounted for; accuracy in record keeping is paramount.

Dopamine is a medication requiring insane amounts of accuracy, and is only given in highly emergent situations where time is of the essence.

Adenosine has an extremely short half-life, so its very specific dosing must be administered with speed.

Someone’s daughter is choking. We have a situation that requires more expediency and less accuracy. The Heimlich maneuver is NOT graceful, and accuracy is not as critical as the brain death time curve. Get oxygen to their brains fast, or else they die.

It seems that with this question, we have a no-win situation.

Invitations to explain are goldmines and should be given due diligence. What are they asking you to explain here?



If you forget what they are asking you to explain, the whole question is lost. This one answer might get you labeled as “not likely,” depending on how far off the path you go.

The evaluators want you to explain something that should be easy, and the request is easy to answer in its way. I call questions like this “elegant” requests for good reason. Except this is no easy question to answer, because your evaluators will think their own answer is the best one. Perhaps this is considered prejudice?

Add on top of those internal biases the fact that you still have us trying to make you crack. Remember? We still have a job to do, and it involves getting candidates to show their real colors. What else can we do to fulfill the job of trapping liars out?



Sometimes, this request is found towards the end of the oral exam. Tired, hungry, thirsty, stinky and sweaty ... this is the evaluator by the end of the day.
The candidate is usually much worse off, so the temptation to “speak and sprint” is through the roof. Breathe and remember, evaluators need their fear to subside, and for all you know, the job is yours in a minute.
This question asks you to decide which is more important: doing something right but slow, or fast but not so right. Or so it would seem.



We don’t want you to take liberties in this scenario, we want you to give liberties. Meaning: Do not assume, but go ahead and volunteer things not expressly requested. Start with things that must be clarified prior to you accurately answering.

In this case, the key is whether you can identify the stated question’s synonym:

“Which is more important, you answering this question quickly, or you answering this question accurately?”

Your answer requires thought, and a thought-provoking narrative, in order to be scored as valuable. The question also needs to be answered completely. Once you’ve decided on which is higher in priority, your explanation of “why” should come from examples. Cite which one was more pivotal than the other in a real-life situation. You are the one who tilts the balance of which is more important because, as we’ve seen, no honest answer exists outside of your own truth.

You will be memorable and have a lasting impact if you can make any answer a learning opportunity for all involved. I did NOT say to actually make every answer a learning opportunity. Use your available time lecturing, and you will be shown the door. Know how to make each question a learning opportunity, but disburse the courses in a trickle, not a deluge.
There aren’t many refreshing feelings during a test. When a candidate is confident as a result of their experiential growth, their answers cannot help but impress. Do you see yet? The fear is not from what you are now, but where you are headed toward. Your task isn’t to convince evaluators of how flawless you are, but rather, how imperfectly perfect your life lessons have been.

We know that openly accepting the lessons God gave you can prevent the next calamity. Personally, I want to learn from you, so long as you have something to teach. Most people just have stories to tell, and no one has time for that anymore.

Evaluators want to hear, “I’m confident I will never do that again,” meaning that you learned a life lesson and it changed you for the better. We don’t want someone who lacks empathy and human compassion, or the ability to self-correct. There are only a handful of ways for agencies to weed out undesirables. One tactic is to ask variations of the same question and look for discrepancies. Three variations of one question can easily expose bad candidates.
Contemplating interview answers now will positively impact your job application. Knowing your discrepancies will allow you to pursue their remedies. If you see a weakness, address it now! Showing your blueprint for success as a work in progress paints a picture of forward progress and evolution.

As you direct your application’s arrow toward the heart of the agency, practice answering impossible questions and notice how your document takes form.

Everything in this process should point to how you can help, now and in the future.

In the next lesson, we discuss common mistakes people make with the application, and what to do if you’ve been rejected.




Chapter 3


Test Day(s)

Written – Depending on where you have sought advice on preparing for firefighter tests, you might have been told, “Here, memorize these 300 questions quickly.”

Yes, we do need to get past those long written tests, and memorizing questions can help. But in many cases, it’s better to have Your answer than to have all the answers.

Oral – Become a master of your own mouth. Occasional stuttering over words is fine; the secret lies in showing that you are always in command of what you say.
Most important, over anything else: Tell Your story. It is intriguing and can be the only differentiation needed for a successful test. The evaluators are looking for any red flags, and people who are questionable typically use keyword-based answers. If your answer doesn’t contain your uniqueness or doesn’t help to alleviate fear, it is not a good answer.

Your risk – Meaning: the risk you take in confessing personal truths to a panel of strangers equates to value for the evaluators.


Truthful and insightful answers open up the testing space for the employer. When a firefighter furthers our research into them of their own volition, it translates into a vulnerability reciprocity cycle. Your goal is to get to the point where the scorers’ returns for rejecting you diminish with each vowel spoken and consonant written.

Maximize every answer, be it written or spoken, by having previously fully assessed your strengths and weaknesses. Obviously, this requires study, practice and some more practice.

The candidate who has prepared in the following way will excel far more than any other candidate. Try it for yourself and watch how the answers flow. Every single day, as the last thoughts pass through your mind, FORCE yourself to mentally reconstruct every conversation you had, beginning with the most recent. Once you clearly re-hear EVERY word spoken and heard...

Proceed to the next earlier conversation.


The voice needed to reconstruct each conversation in your mind, please remember that voice. It will be necessary to tap into that voice during later lessons, but for now, know that voice will save your life. Trust me, it will.

Proceeding through your previous conversations has myriad benefits. In this lesson, you will identify its utility for the purposes of both filtering what to write and say, and filtering out places that would make your life miserable.
Practice re-engineering your conversations; identify “the voice” but nothing more. Once this foundation is secure, we can further develop your inner and more Intelligent Hero. But now you need to put on your gym clothes.


Gauge your fitness with these benchmarks for success.

Remember “H.I.R.E.”.............. (and the target)
H – HOLD something heavy ..…… (50 lbs. each hand)
I – INVERT your body……………….. (25 handstand push-ups)
R – RECOVER faster (Sprint Better)
E – EXPLODE from stillness (Burpees for 10x = 1, 1+1, 1+1+1, etc., up to 10+’s)

Just starting? Take this HIRE approach and work toward the goals above.
– Carry something heavy to the point of failure [HOLD]
– 30-second handstand (progress to 10 push-ups) [INVERT]
– Sprint 100 yards … walk back … repeat (10x) [RECOVER]
– Burpees as fast as possible, 3x for 20 seconds [EXPLODE]


So grab those gym clothes. Buddha’s Belly might bring good luck, but it’s easier to impress with a six-pack. H.I.R.E. will prepare you for the testing and hiring process.

Chapter 4



One rule of thumb here: no heuristics. I have a disdain for anything that attempts a one-size-fits-all approach to human interaction. So here’s our scenario: You sit and wait for the phone to ring, and get the crazy idea to call the place you’re testing for and see if there are any updates.

No, you are not to blindly and haphazardly contact the agency you are testing for to “follow up.” The main reason is that you need to understand the impact of this act on the recipient of your request. Let’s not kid ourselves; we can call it anything we want, but it really boils down to empathy.

Knowing the Audience

Who answers the call? Things can go from bad to worse if you haven’t thought this out well. “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face,” said Mike Tyson.

Suppose you plan out the testing process from beginning to end, and add a little experiment: sending a follow-up email. On the surface, you cannot see the harm in such an innocuous act. You are merely performing your duty to remain remember-able. But depending on what the content of the message is, and whom it is sent to, your plan can backfire. So be aware of whose inbox you’re targeting.

You plan a little email that says, “Hi! My name is <candidate>, and I wanted to take this time to say how appreciative I am for being allowed to test.” MESSAGE SENT … now what?

Did you know that the poor assistant who is getting your email is also getting several dozen other candidates thanking them for being able to test? There are no points to be awarded.



It gets worse. Points deducted is a whole new matter. You could be inadvertently tying your good name to a gigantic irritation or having your message buried in a mountain of emails. Or it was buried, but now you will be found and someone needs to add you to a list to follow up. (They won’t ignore it, which means you just increased someone’s workload unnecessarily.)

What is your plan if there is no response? Surely, if you thought it would be a great idea to email, a little phone call to ensure that the item didn’t get sent to a Spam folder would be in order, correct?


It’s a slippery slope when you begin deviating from the norm. It is not normal for candidates to inundate the office staff with letters. If someone told you that the initial email was a good idea, chances are that about 50 million other people heard the same idea. Generalizing your discussions and templating human connections won’t work towards your goal. “Rules of thumb” get thrown out the window. (READ: Cognitive biases; everyone has a unique composition, so don’t use heuristics.)

Your interactions need to feel organic for all parties involved. Whether you have a panel or a single person evaluating you does not matter. At the end of the day, you need to eliminate fear through an honest approach in order to be a good you.

Yes, we are seeking differentiation, but there are better ways to uniquely stand out as the best person for the job. Enhance every step to perfection. Hold on to this next technique as you would to a jiu-jitsu move or super dance jiggle; every tool has a place and time. Or better yet, view the Follow-Up as a form of medicine; an action in response to something that will improve your image. We all make mistakes or EVOLVE in one way or the other, sometimes painfully.

When you find there is genuinely something needing to be said, so contacting the agency you are testing for is warranted, make sure you’re prepared with three versions, drafted for three potential audiences:

  1. The Decision Maker
  2. The Influencer
  3. The Gatekeeper

Before we dive into the psyche of your potential receivers, let’s talk about—

The Talk

These examples represent three disastrous outcomes of your attempt to be cute and memorable in communicating with the person who will decide your employment. Your message can be more harmful if you don’t think it through.

Knowing how to talk to your audience requires empathy, patience and practice. All of those combine to reveal something like a student-teacher relationship. When you are attempting to re-contact an agency to “follow up,” you had better make it worth everyone’s while!

Believe it or not, what you are saying can be affected by how it is sent, too.

For example: Tweeting the Chief that “…@coolchief I love your test! super happy with my performance! #GOTITMAN!” In your mind, you were thinking, “Everyone loves a compliment and a confident firefighter. Hashtag: Got It Man!” Yet all the Chief remembers is that an Influencer ran into their office with a printout of your juvenile tag—Hitman, or maybe Titman—before he decided you weren’t suitable for his agency.

Therefore, I recommend using this method judiciously.

Carve your message after you’ve decided the mode you will use to send it. Keep in mind that the receiver may not be familiar with anything above a simple handwritten card.

Three strings can make music or make you cry. Your Follow-Up communication has one sender and three potential receivers. Your task is to plan accordingly, because these recipients are very different from each other.

  1. The Decision Maker
This need not be the Fire Chief. In many agencies, certain roles are delegated, with final approval getting rubber stamped. Your fate could rest with a lower level chief officer, typically overworked and under-psyched to be talking to you. So make sure your message is drafted through their eyes.

  2. The Influencer
In the event your Follow-Up is to be received by an Influencer, make sure to keep your language and approach tactful, and your content limited to what they are expecting from you: to be seen and not heard; silent unless spoken to; aggressively pursuing improvement; humble. The lines dividing confident and cocky are blurred with the Influencer, so make sure you aren’t dishing out.

Just be real. They are smelling for the Fakers.
So how can you smell an Influencer? Research! (Hint: They are everywhere; think class president, someone everyone wants to be seen with.)

  3. The Gatekeeper
Whoever answers the phone at the agency is usually given the title of Gatekeeper, but it would be a trap to assume this is always true. The receptionist isn’t always the Gatekeeper, but they might be an Influencer, so keep up your appearance.

The Gatekeeper literally directs the Decision Maker’s day-to-day. Keepers can be the easy-access “in” if you manage your APPROACH correctly.

In this situation, we will assign the Keeper label to anyone who can prevent access. Why go through a Gate? Expediency and assuredness. You can know that your message gets through, and it will be you controlling the tempo. If you send an email to the Chief, there are no assurances of either.


Do not plan your Gatekeeper approach. Listen for: “The Chief is not available right now, but I would be happy to pass on a message, or would you prefer voicemail?” This is the Kiss of Death for your follow-up. Nothing zaps sentiment faster than a voicemail cutting you off mid sentence, or that pink Post-It with your misspelled name sitting on the Chief’s floor.

[Chief] “Who was this person, again? Never mind. On to the next task.”
[You] <crickets>

Consider every move you make with serious care. Every action will have a reaction. We want to control the message and its digestion. To do this, we must visualize an upside to the worst-case scenario.

First, decide on the route you will use to send the message. Then construct your sentiment with an air of humble-but-positive gratitude. Thinking positive goes far beyond clichéd rationalizations or platitudes.

Positivity has a lingering effect on the message, and if the opportunity presents itself, it can restore victory for the defeated.



Here are some things to consider when contemplating your medium:

  * If you send a handwritten note, it may have a longer shelf life for readability and be taken as a sentimental gesture. If it is received too late, there’s always next time, and you’ll be remembered.
Downside: you lose control of tempo and destination.

  * If you send an email, you lose personality and may further inundate an already full inbox. But you gain expediency and a clear destination.

  * Unscheduled visits are done by people who pull from the 1960s vacuum salesman playbook. Typically, the only person who appreciates such a “pleasant surprise” is your mom, so stop reading and give her a call.

  * Social media is risky; it’s hard to reach three different audiences in 140 characters, without needing a follow-up to your follow-up. Besides, which platform are you going to use, some @D-makers-only Facebook group?


First Know: The Condition Your Condition Is In

Aspirin helps with headaches and heart attacks, but remember:

“To the man with a hammer, the world’s
problems are nails.” —Chuckie Munger

Once the means by which our follow-up message will be sent has been chosen, what do we say? What is said should be based on three acceptable criteria, namely:

  1. ADD to your resume. You should inquire about how best to update your resume on file.

  2. BUILD upon an EXISTING rapport.

  3. CORRECT a mistake/error.
When designing your message, make sure to keep it refined and to the point for one of the above purposes. Your goal is to make this interaction work in your favor, by distancing yourself from the other candidates.

Now that you know which three reasons can justify Following Up, plan to finish something, anything, during a testing process and monitor the feedback.

This is an Intelligent follow-up that will only help you, regardless of outcome.

Try a resume-enhancing phone call to inquire about the agency’s “process to update a resume on file.”







Chapter 5


Chief Interview

Rank-Question Correlation: Answers revealed through my lens.

As a gift for continuing with your reading, I will now give you the biggest piece of advice. In fact, if you take only one thing from this book, it should be this:

It is impossible for me as a scorer to objectively evaluate your answers without my own internal biases.

That insight is the culmination of my entire career in the fire service. If you are put in a situation that requires subjectivity, you are at the mercy of the evaluator’s internal biases. Most evaluators and chiefs will be asleep when they ask the question, but then perk up for the answer. They’ve asked the same question hundreds of times, yet never truly delved into what it seeks to do.

Instead, and this will be most common for you, they simply compare your answers to those of the most revered candidate.

If you haven’t performed the interview and a Keeper has been identified, your workload exponentially increases. Not only do you have to convince the Keeper that you aren’t an axe murderer, but now you must also COMPETE with the belle of the ball. This can be a challenge!


How to Tap Into the Brain’s Biases

The heading above should evoke an image. Read it carefully and assess your level of willingness to, say, let whoever said it perform surgery on your brain.

If I said you were to allow the speaker of the above phrase to babysit your firstborn infant, or push a clear liquid into your father’s vein when too much could kill him, does your level of willingness escalate or drop?

Now switch things up and let this speaker fill up your car’s gas tank.

You have just seen firsthand a cognitive bias in action. Your evaluators don’t share the same biases, but they definitely all have biases.

If an evaluator is “asleep,” meaning not engaged, they won’t ever absorb what you’re saying. Instead, they will act on biases, including juvenile differentiation techniques like, “Oh, he looks like my friend from high school!” Or worse, “Oh, he looks like that bully from high school!”

You are wasting your time with this person if you only plan to speak in keywords.

Overcoming the evaluator’s biases is made easier by knowing everything about the agency you are being tested for. An internal evaluator will be biased against hot-button topics that cause internal strife. It’s not hard to figure out what those topics would be if you have been aggressively researching your dream agency. The internal evaluator wants people who will contribute to their agency’s cause! This is the perspective we talked about earlier. If you can guide your responses down a familiar path, projecting answers through their lens, you will keep the scorer engaged and set yourself apart in a positive way.

If the evaluator is not from the agency—and guest evaluators are used all the time—you will notice this from a different uniform. Polished knowledge of what you’re supposed to know will be your lifesaver. Meaning: there’s an art to not knowing the answers.









At Your Level

Know what you should know, and nothing else.

Sounds tough, but the situation could be a lot worse. Granted, your nerves are causing butterflies in your stomach, but relief should come with a deep breath and a reminder to yourself that your evaluators are nervous, too.

All the chiefs can do at this point is ask you a couple questions. The responses you give cannot be alien to them. Any answers given need to show that you are qualified, but only to the rank you are testing to. Your evaluators are held mercilessly to the sanctions of employment law.
Trust me, if it were up to the chief, a department of minions and sycophants would be a dream firefighting cadre.

The questions being asked of you during the Chief’s Oral Interview are the last line of defense against the biggest failure cause: cultural conflict. That’s right, I said it. The Chief’s Interview is nothing more than a filter for “cultural fit.”

Head honchos are tasked with keeping order amongst the ranks. They will be looking for people in their own likeness, because they are convinced that they are the source of the agency’s culture.

Order in the ranks is threatened when an antagonizer is introduced. What your graders are considering is whether you pose a threat to harmony and peace. Rub people the wrong way during your testing process, and you will rub people the wrong way throughout your career’s life, however short that is. That’s all the Chief has. There is no defendable way to evaluate you on the “Fit for Here” scale.

Engineer Frank thinks the service needs fewer “X” people.

Why? Because “everyone” he has ever met who was an X person never worked, never told the truth and never... He looks up at you nervously sitting in your interview chair, waiting for the first question, and Engineer Frank has already got you figured out.

Engineer Frank happened to be walking by the room where you were waiting, just minutes before you were brought in, and THOUGHT he heard you say something offensive. Did he research to find out that you weren’t the one who said it? Nope! There are hundreds of “you,” and the Fire Gods graced him with the opportunity to discover something you’re hiding. Though you are completely innocent of any wrongdoing, the panel quickly learns of the reconnaissance’s harvest, and writes you off. You are dead before you even open your mouth.

This is the drama you are walking into. Are you taking careful notes? None of this information is shown on TV or in movies. The realities of testing in the fire service aren’t taught in junior college or at any “tower” academy. The minute you interface with someone of authority in the fire service, you need to keep your mouth closed and your mind aware. Become observant and notice things—remember from earlier? If not, re-read “The Goldilocks Department.” It’s the only way to know whether it’s worth sacrificing so much.

Being silent and observant will allow you to realize that the questions coming at you are analogous to a father questioning the guy taking his daughter on a date: “Who are you? Where do you come from ... lineage, pedigree, education, bad relationships? Are you loyal, can I trust you?!”

Luckily, craft must be applied in what is asked of California’s job applicants. The interview must be designed around what are called “bona fide occupational necessities.” Meaning: The question writers need to be able to defend in court, to “reasonable people” such as a judge and/or a jury, that all aspects of the filtering process aren’t unlawfully exclusive. Jesus! You won’t believe how many test writers don’t adhere to this rule.

Instead of dumping a large portion of your time into poring over thousands of scenario-type questions, look for an easier study buddy to prepare for this final cultural filter.

The preparation you need to have completed before this final human checkpoint (the rest after this is arithmetic, as opposed to subjective psychological garbage) is to study your “tell.” The “tell” is one of the first things an evaluator looks for. Finding the subtle facial wince, or non-Tourette twitch, was a way for me to overcome ridiculous boredom during firefighter testing. Hundreds upon hundreds of nervous, not-yet Heroes funneled in front of my table, all saying the same bogus keywords. It was so predictable that I could group the candidates by which preparatory manual they had studied.

The liars were the ones I stalked. If a liar got past the evaluators, there could be years of hardship. An experienced liar can be dangerous. Possibly deadly. Lying is a psychological disorder. Do Not Sugarcoat This! A liar can lie on an application, certificate, patient care report, disciplinary investigation and in a host of other dangerous, very dangerous, areas.

Liars can lie to themselves, and this author prays that they have found the error in their ways, should their eyes ever encounter these words. Please tell the truth, always, and it begins with this exercise that I continue to perform every day.




If only you practiced and studied...

Sit in front of the mirror. If you cannot look yourself in the eye, you are lying through your teeth, and we will see your bullshit. You need to see it. Let today be the first day that you embark on the noble virtue of truth.

Now the questions become strikingly easy! You can be ignorant of something you aren’t EXPECTED to know. Oh my goodness, I could count the times I have heard someone say “I don’t know” on one hand. Somewhere, somehow, someone convinced people that ignorance will always be seen as a weakness, and therefore something to avoid at all costs.
Couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, tons of questions are designed to gauge the level of your coachability. If you cannot be coached, you cannot grow.









Growth Mentality Prevails

What questions should you prepare to answer?

Easy: Answer the ones you are expected to know. Study the job flyer, and you are pretty much covered up to the point of how you set yourself apart from the others. A growth-minded candidate exudes a willingness to be curious after self-analysis reveals where they are ignorant. Don’t you see?


Ignorance is aggressively sought after by those who want to become Intelligent. They don’t ask themselves anything; they simply look for all their “I don’t know” areas, and begin the task of knowing. It’s really simple: Instead of just asking Mom how to spell the word “naivete,” the intelligent person identifies FIRST that they don’t know how to spell the word “naivete,” and then sets out to learn.









When you take your updated spelling of “naivete” and not only write it down correctly, but also educate someone on its appropriate use and context, you’ve mastered “naivete.” As opposed to simply answering the quick question of spelling, you became an instructor. You can now hold the knowledge for life. This is the path to mastering the fire service and knowing as much as you can about what you are talking about.

Nature’s breath freshener is “I don’t know”; we can breathe in that airspace. It only smells bad when you aren’t truthful.

Know the job flyer, know the Agency, and know your I-Don’t-Knows. If the evaluators hear too many I-don’t-knows, it means that either you didn’t study the job flyer and its contents, or they didn’t plan the questions correctly. The second one DOES happen, so please don’t beat yourself up. You now have information that should prevent quitting after a poor test: Most of the time, agencies, especially small and medium ones, are poor at test giving.





The Awkward Pause

Military strategists and UFC fighters consider controlling tempo to be paramount to guiding the outcome. Tempo, put simply, is the speed at which things are occurring. In your case, having domain over the interview’s pace gives you the comedian’s power of controlling the crowd.

Skillfully used, the mystical properties of captivating someone’s attention have long-lasting benefits.
Your voice resonates in the evaluator’s thoughts, sometimes for years after the interview occurs. Fifteen years after I interviewed with him, one panel member recalled with distinct clarity the mode, manner, and grace with which I had artfully name-dropped the wrong person. While he may have not approved of my reference, something else occurred: branding and captivation.

My control of the conversation and its content tipped the scale in my favor with the five chiefs interviewing me that day. I won 3, lost 2; still a win with the final vote tally. The damage to my credibility happened as a result of my poor planning and homework regarding subject matter. With a little more preparation, I would have learned that one panel member would take issue with my relationship to the person whose name I planned to drop.

When sitting in the company of the Hatfields, it pays to know when and when not to speak of Mr. McCoy.
So what had prompted me to vomit out the blasphemy? I had nothing to say before the inevitable and awkward pause as the interview concluded. Here’s the final question, and how you roll out of it: “Is there anything you would like to add?”

If you haven’t rehearsed your answer from beginning to end—that’s where I failed—it leaves the opportunity for an eerie silence to occur. Inside that moment of hearing only pasty mouths and bowel sounds lies the trap.

The trap is the need to say something, anything, to break the awkward silence. Walk around the trap by having rehearsed the opportunity to wow the heck out them.

Have a “closing argument” for why you’re an asset. Your scoring will reflect your ability to capture their attention and leave a pleasant memory. That’s really all there is to the discussion. It’s a protective parent looking for adoptees. The parent only wants adoptees that fit a mold. Molds are formed from the evaluator’s ego. They want a mirror of themselves. Don’t sell your soul; sell your Intelligence.

















Chapter 6



Red flags and pen marks everywhere. Now we are past the human psychology/culture filter. The next phase of the recruitment process will be to investigate your background. Most conditional job offers are made prior to a background investigation, but that isn’t a hard-and-fast rule. If an agency opts to hire you before an investigator looks through your trash, it’s a gamble, and we don’t like gambling with public funds.
Warning sign of stress: Barring exigent circumstances, rushed recruitment means a poor Human Resources Division. Hurrying through anything that has a checklist typically results in uncontrolled flight downward into terra firma—i.e., crash and burn.

A poorly managed Human Resources Division is constantly playing catch-up. The external message typically is one of excuses, but the blame actually lies in a lousy succession plan, or even worse, a horrid onboarding process that washes out probationary Heroes.

If you test for an agency that lacks any formalized, written-on-paper succession plan, you are rolling the dice because it means the decision makers have lost control. A rudderless ship will find land eventually. And not well.




Let me give you an example of what I mean regarding loss of control.

EXAMPLE: A firefighter will be given work expectations for how to maintain control while the room around is ablaze, in writing.

A paramedic will be given protocols and approved procedures for how to maintain control of sick patients, in writing.

A chief financial officer will be given specifics on how to allocate funds for operational needs like paying the electric and fuel bills, in writing.

The person tasked with running the entire organization, the Fire Chief, has but a few critical “governing documents” to refer to when making decisions. The Chief cannot make arbitrary decisions without risking violation of contracts, covenants and agreements.

The guiding documents the Fire Chief should utilize in planning for the future of the organization include short-, medium- and long-term perspectives. One of these documents, labeled the Succession Plan, lays out the anticipated vacancies caused by attrition, the normal wear and tear of human capital.










The Succession Plan

Combined with the budget, the Succession Plan can secretly tell you if the agency is a diamond in the rough or a sinking ship, meaning future layoffs and budget cuts. Working at agencies with robust finances takes one large worry off your back. A Succession Plan that is lacking in clarity and validity might be best translated as, “Your neck may be on the line.”

The Fire Chief who allows an agency to carry on, business as usual, while there is no plan, has effectively lost control. When a surprise injury or retirement occurs, the place erupts in pandemonium. This terminally ill agency is not an ideal place to work.





Background Check Questionnaire

Watch the mail, but you may want to consider getting a post office box or similar guarantee of receipt. If the agency that is sending the background questionnaire continuously gets returned mail because your mom won’t answer the door(!), it could cause you to miss critical deadlines. Asking the agency if you can pick up the package, to ensure safe arrival, is not a bad thing.

If you cannot arrange to retrieve it on your own—ideal in case there are confusing questions—a background packet will be sent for you to fill out. Mind-numbing research will be required, because they are looking for one of the worst evils a fire agency can encounter, a liar. Remember, the Liar can lie on the stand, to the patient, to the officer, to you, to anyone. We need them out!

Keep this in mind while you fill out that ridiculous amount of autobiography: answer what is asked, nothing more. What you want to conceal, is it worth it? No matter what: Never lie.



Harris’ Truth

Or, the biology of fibbing.

There is a very big problem when you decide to lie. The problem is: you decided. The lie was a conscious decision that took deliberation on your part. What can an interviewer possibly ask that would evoke a lie? Maybe drugs were in your past, or an arrest occurred before you were 17. What would make you decide to lie when these issues come up? Research shows that a liar’s dislike for the victim increases as the lying increases. Read that carefully. The research does NOT show that a liar tends to like the person they are lying to; no, the liar’s disdain for someone increases with the intensity and frequency of lying.

What stops a Liar in the fire house? The smart ones don’t get caught, and as they get promoted, so grows the depth of problems.

Think about it: If you can sit in front of other human beings and decide to write or say something that you know to be untrue, it will hurt someone. It is a snowball you are building, and it tumbles down slopes towards schools and hospitals. Don’t do it!

Can you still be suspected of lying, regardless of your mountains of vindicating evidence? Unfortunately, you are still at the mercy of a person’s biases and how they interpret your biology.





The Lying Lie Detector

Don’t praise the machine; the lie detector takes me back to some old time when someone thought they were a technical alchemist. When it had finally been agreed that reading someone’s skull couldn’t determine how they would ethically behave, along came a device that can see past the Veil of Isis and determine quantifiably if someone is truthful.
Many fine Heroes were denied employment because some bad seed took an eight-hour course in reading squiggly lines, and so got cast as the definitive authority on their level of truth telling.

But you must push on! It is a wall to scale, but that’s not important. In order to master the lie detector, you need to have your truth pre-plumbed.
Notice how I didn’t say that you need to “have all of the answers”? There is no way to prepare for what will be asked, but I’ll give you some simple ground rules for entering this minefield: Remember that they fear you. Questions will be aimed at alleviating THEIR fear:

  1. Drug usage
  2. Violence
  3. Theft
  4. Sexual tendencies
  5. Acts of discrimination
  6. Mental stability

They are on the Hunt for “Red October” lies, starting with the above and any stuttered responses to a red mark. Secondary searches for peripheral lack of loyalty follow, through reframing all previous questions AFTER fatiguing the interviewee and looking for biological cues. They listen for justifications and ramblings that precede or follow a direct answer to specific Yes/No questions.

We root out the Liars because they are destructive to the Hero Service. If you have any hesitation to express your own truth, it will be “detected.” More aptly stated, an amazing machine is trying to measure your lying cues, but the humans who built and read it instill biases. Overcome the biases by having complete domain over your awareness, and being honest about it.

As a future Hero, you will sign many documents attesting to your truthfulness. Hold that pen with confidence, knowing that you are unabridged in your transparency and ethical behavior. As employers, we feel you’d better have the HONESTY thing down, now.

Left untreated, lying may lead to someone swearing you in for the whole truth and nothing but the truth, SO HELP YOU GOD for perjury, and the innocent will suffer.














Chapter 7


Conditional Job Offer

Or, getting married to the mob. Here we are, arriving at the goal for this portion of your career. As Jocko Will Ink’s Warrior Kid would hear, “That’s good. Keep going.” Do not celebrate too soon with your conditional job offer. Please don’t. See it to some degree as someone offering to handcuff you.

You cannot allow yourself to see this as a marriage, either. A healthy marriage begins with trust and love. Fire service employment does not.

Trust me, if you follow my philosophy and strategize your approach to fire department testing, conditional job offers will occur.

So what does a conditional job offer mean? It’s them saying, “You fill a gap in our agency, and you don’t look like you would kill anyone or steal anything.” There is no security in that! It is critical to follow through and continue our plan. Remember, the overall goal is to find the BEST fire department to work for. When you see the agency without makeup, it may suddenly occur to you that your impression of who they really are is worsening.

As a way to soothe your nerves before the final Leap of Faith—leaving your current employer and dedicating your life to the new one—let’s discuss some final checks to determine if you leap, or you stay.
Contingencies & Signs

Signs of Stress form the core of your final once-over before the leap. Let’s go over some areas to KNOW before committing to your next agency. It’s worth remembering that these are guidelines to act as validation for your own gut instincts. If your gut tells you to do something, do it. If you read it here and your gut validates the sign of stress, walk away. While you may be ready to work, they might not be ready for you, and completely unaware of it!
Review the agency’s budget, which is required in California to be accessible, and see if they’re spending like a teenager with Mommy’s credit card. Calculate their unfunded liabilities and see if there would even be enough money for your retirement. Deficit spending is a sign of stress.

Creative wording to describe the deficit spending is a sign of stress.

Look through all possible means to find critics of the agency, such as Letters to The Editor. Figure out how many hirings they perform, and cross check that with retirements. Early retirements before December are signs of stress.

Governing bodies relying solely on the Fire Chief as a source of information is a sign of stress. They are your only check against a tyrannical leader. Rudeness is a sign of stress.

Think about it: whatever agency you choose will require personal sacrifice. Your irrevocable and unrecoverable time will be laid down, so make sure you’ve chosen wisely. Measure all the pros and cons. Put plenty of research into your decision, because soon the advantage shifts against you.



Bias for the Employer

How the rules change NOT in your favor.

Welcome to your new job, Hero! Granted, you haven’t started yet, but this feels nice! Let’s remember how you got here:

7 Fire Service Steps

1 – You prepared yourself and thought things through, visualizing your prized agencies to work for.

2 – Significant research has gone into where you will apply and how to do it effectively.

3 – Thanks to your tremendous preparatory work, you smoked the test, making them beg you to continue.

4 – You skillfully improved upon an already-stellar resume, and remembered to update your prospects with follow-up contacts.

5 – After you appropriately adjusted your communication but kept the message, the chief interview ended positively, and they decided to invest their first dollar in you.

6 – Your promise to never lie again has led to a bored background investigator, and after you mastered the polygraph machine, a letter arrived in the mail.

7 – You open it and your eyes scan the sweet, sweet words typed on classy cardstock with fancypants letterhead that begin with, “[Your Name] Congratulations please accept this conditional offer.”



The epinephrine release is instinctual, and your rapid heart rate comes from an addictive childish exuberance that allows your mind to wander. You can easily SEE yourself as a firefighter now, and nothing can hold you back!

The rules have shifted slightly in THEIR favor, however. You are now expected to reciprocate the trust fall. They want you to fully embrace your new employer, by shedding all other commitments and dedicating your world to “Them,” this One Fire Department.

The condition of your new job offer is that for the next year, possibly two years, they can fire you without cause. You get to work in the morning and are met by a cold-faced chief officer, holding an empty box.

Probation starts now! They are not paying you a dime yet, but you can still lose your job. That bias creates an unbalanced scale in their favor. You need to counterbalance by action, largely by adopting your new mindset of Intelligent Hero instead of “Probationary Firefighter,” whatever that means.











































































“Engine 182 returning to quarters.”