51 Firefighter Interview Questions (Updated for 2024)

I’ve compiled a list of 51 firefighter interview questions (with answers). If you’re in the middle of prepping for your interview, you’ve come to the right spot.

Preparing for any interview can be stressful, especially a high-stakes one like this.

I’ve broken down each type of question you’ll likely get into 4 categories:

  • Who
  • What
  • Why
  • How

Each of these questions has a good answer to it, which I’ve included below the list.

If you’re in the middle or preparing for your interview, I would read through each one and be prepared with an answer that fits your background and experience, but also tells the interviewer what they’re wanting to know.

P.S. – If you need help getting your resume all set for your interview, I can review your resume to make sure you’ve got the best chance at getting the firefighter job you want.

51 Firefighter Interview Questions

Let’s start with a list of questions.  Then, we’ll address the different types of questions and how to answer each.  Here are 51 firefighter interview questions you can be sure you’ll encounter along with their respective category:

  • Tell us about yourself. (who)
  • Tell us about your family. (who)
  • Tell us about your best friend. (who)
  • When did you decide you wanted to be a firefighter? (why)
  • Why do you want to be a firefighter? (why)
  • What have you done to prepare for this job? (what)
  • What have you done to prepare for this interview? (what)
  • What is the primary goal of the fire department? (what)
  • What aspect of the job appeals to you the most? The least? (who)
  • What is the job of a firefighter? (what)
  • Do you feel you are qualified to be a firefighter with ______ Fire Department? (what/who/why)
  • If hired, what would you bring to this job? This department? (what)
  • Why do you want to work for _____ Fire Department? (why)
  • Tell us what you know about _______ city/department/district. (what)
  • What do you feel is your biggest strength? (who)
  • What do you feel is your biggest weakness? (who)
  • What would your previous boss say about you? Something positive and negative. (who)
  • What are the most important attributes of a firefighter? (what/why)
  • What is the most important trait a firefighter must possess? (what)
  • Suppose you found drugs in another firefighter’s locker. How would you respond? (how)
  • Suppose you noticed your Lieutenant was intoxicated. How would you respond? (how)
  • How would you respond to another firefighter offering you an illegal substance? (how/who)
  • How would you handle a conflict with another firefighter? (how)
  • How would you respond if you saw another firefighter steal? (how/who)
  • How would you handle bullying in the workplace? (how/who)
  • How would you handle conflicting orders at a scene? (how/what)
  • How would you deal with an irate citizen? (how)
  • How would you deal with sexual harassment towards yourself? Towards another? (how/who)
  • How would you deal with a coworker making racist remarks or jokes? (how/who)
  • How would you deal with an order against your moral judgment? (how/who)
  • How would you deal with an order that put you in great danger? (how/what)
  • When you don’t know an answer, how do you respond? (who/what)
  • Tell us about a time you disagreed with your boss? A co­worker? How did you handle it? (how/who)
  • If we offer you the job, when could you start? (why)
  • Are you on any other hiring lists? (who)
  • If we were to offer you the job, would you leave if offered a job elsewhere? (who)
  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years? 20 years? (who/why)
  • At the end of your career, what would be an accomplishment you would be most proud of? (who/why)
  • What are the character traits of a firefighter? (who/what)
  • Have you ever been in an emergency situation? (who/what)
  • How do you handle stress? (who)
  • How do you handle criticism? (who)
  • What are your hobbies? (who/what)
  • Why should we select you over the other candidates? (who/why)
  • What are the roles of a rookie firefighter? (what)
  • What are your questions for us? (why)
  • Tell us about yourself in High School? (who)
  • What have you done since High School? (who)
  • What do you think are the roles of the firefighter within this city/district? (what)
  • What do you think the day to day activities/responsibilities of a firefighter are? (what)
  • What sort of formal education do you have? (who/what)
  • Tell us what life experience you have that can relate to this job? (who/what)

It’s impossible to know exactly what you will be asked prior to an interview.  Even though most interviews have the same general questions and follow the same general format, every department is different and puts different amounts of importance on different information. 

On top of that there may be impromptu questions you may be asked that are sparked by something you say.

For example, one question I encountered in one of my interviews that caught me off guard went something like this.  “Imagine it’s the end of your career, what would be one achievement you would be proud to have completed?”

Not something you typically prepare for, but it was still a great question!

That being said, even though it’s impossible to prepare for every possible question you can get asked, but what you can do is prepare for different types of questions and have answers prepared.

Who Interview Questions for Firefighters

A question I can almost guarantee you will get at some point during your interview (usually at the beginning) is something like “So, ______, tell us about yourself.” 

Pretty obvious what they are asking, but what they really want to know is your background.

Sure, they’ve run a criminal background check to see if you have been arrested and have probably talked to your references, they know the basics. 

But, what they really want to know is, in your words, what kind of person you are, what makes you tick, how do you spend your time, what have you achieved, what are you proud of, what outlets do you have for stress, etc.

This is obviously important information for them to know.  After all they may be inviting you to be a part of their family.  They want to know as much information as they possibly can before they offer you the job.

This is a prime opportunity to tell them your story, your achievements, your beliefs etc.  No matter how great your background, experience or resume is it’s important to remain humble. 

It’s good to be proud of your accomplishments and experience, but few things are as off-putting as an arrogant person. 

As long as your answer includes relevant information to the question being asked you should be on the right track.

As with most of the questions you will encounter during your interview, it is important to keep this brief.  Try to keep your answers under a couple of minutes max.

How to answer: Tell us about yourself.

Usually, this is asked at the very beginning of an interview.  If that is the case, it is important to take a minute and thank the panel for their time and the opportunity to interview with them. 

This will go a long way and shows respect for them, their time and the department.

As for the question, try to keep it brief.  As with all the other questions two minutes should be plenty of time to touch on the highlights.

The panel isn’t asking you for your life story, but rather they want to know more about you.  As long as your answer is relevant to you it should be fine. 

Things you’ll want to focus on are your education, relevant experience for the job and a brief story of what got you from where you were to what brought you in front of the panel.

If you’re a candidate who is relatively young (under 23) talk about what you did in high school. 

Any academic accomplishments would be acceptable to talk about, or any kind of outside group or organization that you were a part of.

It would also be good to talk about any sort of related job experience.

These include things like EMS/fire experience are obviously the best but what other skills or experience do you have that could be valuable to firefighting? 

A professional firefighter not only operates as a first responder but also has a role as a representative or emissary of the government entity.

Were you on a speech or debate team and are well-spoken?

Have you learned or enjoy auto mechanics? 

These and other skills are secondary to the position but will be well thought of by the interviewers.

How to answer: What do you feel is your biggest strength?  What do you feel is your biggest weakness?

These questions trip up a lot of candidates, especially when asking about weaknesses. 

The most common sticking point I hear is that they don’t want to come off as arrogant talking about their strengths, and they don’t want to come off as incompetent by talking about a weakness.

We’ll start with the weakness, as this is usually more difficult to articulate.

The first thing you need to understand is that everyone has weaknesses.  This includes every person you will ever sit in front of on a hiring panel. 

A huge mark of maturity is being willing to admit a weakness in a given area. 

That being said, there is no need to feel as though you will ruin your chances of getting hired by admitting to a weakness.

However, I would strongly caution and advise every candidate to be careful on exactly what weakness or personal struggle you choose to reveal to an interview panel.

If you have a major character flaw or serious problem, the interview may not be the best time to talk about that.  

Now, I’m not encouraging dishonest or bad people to join the fire service, but I would be cautious about admitting to a very personal struggle.

Conversely, what I tell every candidate I speak to is to choose a weakness or flaw that is relatively generic.  One that a lot of people generally struggle with, but nobody can really look down on you for it.

For example, in all of my interviews I discussed my struggle with being able to stay organized. 

For various reasons, organization has always been a weakness for me, but in past years I have improved greatly.

The ability to be organized is one of those things that a lot of people struggle with, but it isn’t a big enough weakness to be considered a serious character flaw.

After all, can anyone really admit to being perfectly organized in every aspect of their life 24/7?  I doubt it!

Finally, when stating your weakness, it is important to always state two things. 

First, that you have been working on whatever it is, and have improved, and second you need to state how or what you have done to improve. 

Remember, words mean nothing; action is king. (This will be something we discuss a lot on this site, especially when it comes to taking responsibility for past mistakes such as a DUI or others).

Far fewer people have difficulty discussing their strength.  This is usually because everyone’s favorite subject is themselves. 

This isn’t a bad thing, it’s just human nature.

When discussing a strength, it’s important to not just state what it is, but provide proof of how you have demonstrated that strength. 

Both tangible and intangible strengths work well.

For example, if you have a lot of higher-level education or experience you can use that as a strength.  Most people would see advanced degrees or knowledge as an asset. 

Also, don’t be afraid to talk about intangible strengths as well.  Things such as patience, persistence and the ability to work in teams can be a huge strength. 

However, you choose to answer don’t forget that your ultimate goal with this interview is to cast yourself in the most positive light as possible. 

How to answer: How do you deal with stress?

Firefighting can be a very stressful career.  Uncertainty, sickness, lack of sleep, danger, PTSD and a whole host of other issues will be present in every day of your career.

With the advancements in research when it comes to mental health, PTSD, depression and other issues, the management of stress is becoming a bigger and bigger issue in today’s fire service.

If you are asked this, or a question similar to this (What are your hobbies? What do you do in your free time?) the panel wants to know that you practice healthy habits or have healthy outlets to relieve all of the stress. 

These things can include working out, hiking, being outdoors, yoga (yes, yoga!), fishing or really anything you may do that isn’t harmful to yourself or others.

The department doesn’t want to invite trouble, so they want to know your main outlets don’t include things like binge drinking, smoking, compulsive gambling, illegal drugs or anything else that can be considered unhealthy.

How to answer: When you don’t know an answer, how do you respond?

In short, the correct answer is, “I ask for help.  Admit I don’t know and seek out the answer.” 

Firefighting is inherently dangerous, and nothing’s more dangerous than someone pretending to know what they are doing when they don’t.

The panel is looking to find out two things:

  1. The hiring panel wants to know that you are willing to ask for help.  Being a good firefighter requires constant learning.  With learning comes questions. 

    They want to know if you are willing and able to ask for advice from senior firefighters.  They also want to make sure you would be willing to sacrifice your ego and ask a question rather than put yourself and others in danger.
  2. The panel wants to know that you are motivated.  They want to know that you will take the initiative to continue to expand your knowledge without being forced to do so.

How to answer: Why should we hire you over all of the other candidates?

This is your time to shine.  Sell yourself! 

It’s particularly important to exude confidence when answering a question like this.  It can be hard because you’re so nervous, but it’s critical that you answer in a way that is convincing.

Referencing your strengths (tangible and intangible), your skills, experience and knowledge all come into play. 

Be sure to keep it brief and touch on a few different aspects that you feel make you stand out as a candidate.

There are a few common mistakes I see all the time with prospective candidates. 

The first of these is being too wordy.  This is especially common with the question “So _______, tell us about yourself.” 

It’s tough not to say too much because you want to fit as much in as possible to give them the best picture of who you are. 

Remember, keep your answers to around two minutes max. 

Make an outline of two or three points you want to touch on and when you practice and speak only to those points.  This brings up another important point, practice. 

You must practice your answers before going into the interview.

Another common mistake I see with candidates is repeatedly referencing negatives or being self-deprecating with your answers. 

I get it, a lot of people are uncomfortable with the idea of an interview and they may try to downplay their strengths and confidence in an attempt to seem humble. 

I can’t stress enough how important it is to exude confidence not only in your words, but in the way, you carry yourself.

Finally, here’s a video that sums up how to approach and answer who questions.

So now it’s your turn.  Use this list of practice questions to practice the questions which are marked with a (who).

What Interview Questions for Firefighters

This may seem fairly self-explanatory, but these questions are geared towards what you know.  Whether it be about specific fire tactics or you knowledge of the fire service, they want to know what you know.

If you are a candidate who is completely new to the fire service, chances are they won’t be asking you questions about specific fire tactics.

However, if you are a lateral hire or have experience in the fire service don’t be surprised if they ask you some scenario-based questions.  This is your time to shine. 

However, keep in mind that there’s a good chance that there are people on that panel who have been fighting fires longer than you’ve been alive. 

You’re not going to blow them away with your knowledge so keep it simple and show them that you are an intelligent, competent firefighter.

If you’re a new firefighter, the panel is going to ask you questions geared more towards a different set of knowledge. 

They’re going to ask you questions based more on do you know the basic duties and functions of the job.  What do you know about the particular city/district (more on that later in this article) to which you are applying, and do you know the number one responsibility of the fire department?

Whether or not you have fire service experience the panel will essentially be asking what you know about the job, and what the primary role and function of the fire department is (hint: to protect life and property).

Make sure you do your research on the city before you get into the interview. 

It may not ruin your chances of getting hired, but if you are asked a basic question about the city/district and you don’t know, it certainly won’t look good for you.

These are questions that are a perfect opportunity for you to showcase any outside knowledge or skills that you possess that would be helpful to a department. 

Here are some ideas that are particularly useful firefighting skills:

  • Any mechanical skill.  Small engines, vehicle maintenance, etc.
  • Knowledge and experience in the trades.  Plumbing, electrical, masonry, building construction, etc.
  • IT or radio knowledge.  Working with software or radio systems
  • Advanced medical certifications/licenses. Paramedic, Nurse, Physician Assistant etc.
  • Education experience.  Working with children or some kind of teaching/coaching role

These are all important for different reasons, but each one of these skills is needed in the personnel of a fire department. 

This is important information for the panel to know as it will allow them to see what other roles you could play in the department outside of your basic firefighting duties. 

It also shows the panel that you have initiative and are willing to learn and take on more responsibility within the department.

Here are some examples of common questions asking about your knowledge, and how to answer them properly.

How to answer: What is the most important attribute of a firefighter?

This question is fairly straight forward, and difficult to mess up.  The problem that candidates often over-think this question and don’t provide adequate reasoning as to why they believe a particular attribute is so important.

Things like honesty, integrity, courage, teamwork, compassion etc. are all great answers, just be sure to back them up.  It also doesn’t hurt to discuss not only why you believe that particular trait is important, but how you embody and demonstrate it in your own life.

For example, you may feel that having compassion is one of the most is the most important traits a firefighter can possess

If you have experience volunteering in some capacity mention that you demonstrate compassion in your own life by giving your time to ______ group.

How to answer: What aspects of this job appeal to you the most?  The least?

For questions like this it’s important to just be honest.  Again, this one is difficult to mess up so just go with whatever really appeals to you.

I learn best by examples, so I’ll tell you what I said during my interviews. I talked about how the idea of working as a part of a team was the most appealing aspect of the job. 

Working as a part of a group to accomplish important tasks was something I had experience with and enjoyed a lot. 

What appeals to you?

I will warn you, if your sole reason for wanting to be a part of the fire service is for money, time off, schedule or anything related to that, now may not be a good time to bring that up (more on that later).

As far as what doesn’t appeal to you, again just be honest. 

For me, the least appealing part of the job is watching other people suffer.  Whether that’s physically, emotionally, psychologically or any other form, it’s something I really don’t enjoy. 

Not that I think many people do, but for me I find seeing it first-hand particularly difficult. 

What about the job isn’t appealing to you?

How to answer: What have you done to prepare for this job?

As with all of the other questions just be honest. 

Are you noticing a theme here? 

The part that trips candidates up is they feel that they have to have a big elaborate answer as to what they did to prepare.

If you’re reading this article, guess what you’re doing?  Preparing for the job!

If you currently work as a volunteer firefighter, you’ve been preparing for the job for as long as you’ve been on the department. 

If you work in EMS or some other capacity, that counts too. 

If you have a regular workout or training regimen that is preparation as well. 

Finally, something as simple as taking time to talk to people you know that currently work as career firefighters can be counted as job preparation.

There are all sorts of ways to prepare for this job, so think about what you’ve done or are currently doing and don’t be afraid to include that in your answer.

How to answer: What is the primary role of the fire department?

Protect life and property.  Straight and simple.

Don’t get me wrong the fire department has many functions within the community such as education, training, fire prevention, public service, maintenance (through regular inspections) and many others. 

But make no mistake the primary role of the department is simply to protect life and property.

How to answer: If hired, what would you contribute to this fire department?

Before we got into discussing the different question types I mentioned that a lot of the principles and answers are similar; they overlap and can be used for multiple questions.

This question is no exception. 

If asked what your contribution would be to the department now is essentially your time to sell yourself (very similar to why should we hire you over all of the other candidates?). 

Speak extensively about your strengths, skills, experience and knowledge.

Be specific about what you could bring to a department.  Maybe you’re a mechanic and you can fix anything with an engine.  You’ll be very valuable to a department. 

Maybe you have experience in teaching groups.  You’ll be perfect for school talks and other community events.

Pick a few different skills or sets of knowledge that you possess that could prove to be very helpful to a department and talk about those.

How to answer: What do you think are the daily responsibilities of a firefighter?

Unfortunately, there are some out there that think the day of a firefighter consists of naps, occasional working out and TV watching.  Here are links to articles that talk about firefighter schedules and what firefighters do on a daily basis

While some days can be slower than others; if that’s what your idea of daily responsibilities in the fire house is, you have a lot to learn.

The fire department actually wears several hats in the community. 

As mentioned before the primary role is to protect life and property through responding to emergencies, but other responsibilities include station maintenance, training, public service/education, inspections and other fire prevention measures.

Finally, now isn’t the time to try and make a joke about watching TV or other duties. 

While you may get a sympathetic smile from someone on the panel, I promise it will not be received well and ultimately hurt your chances of getting hired.

The biggest mistake a candidate can make when answering questions about their knowledge and skills is not being honest about your skills and abilities or exaggerating them.

What you have to remember is that typically there are decades of experience on a given panel.  If you try to exaggerate your way through a question, and it is obvious you don’t possess that particular skill or knowledge, you have all but eliminated your chances of being hired by that department.

Finally, here’s a video that goes over how to approach and answer what questions.

Your turn.  List a few different skills, experiences or sets of knowledge you possess that could be helpful to a fire department. 

Why Interview Questions for Firefighters

Don’t get me wrong, being a career firefighter comes with a lot of perks.  Great pay, lots of time off, pension, benefits and the list can go on. 

However, if this is your only reason for wanting to get into the fire service now is not the time to bring that up.

Before I move on with this section let me make one thing clear.  A lot of candidates email me asking me if their reasons for getting into the fire service are acceptable.

As long as your reasons aren’t illegal, immoral or an attempt to hurt anyone or anything– don’t let anyone tell you your reasons aren’t good enough or aren’t the ‘right’ reasons.

You’ll hear a lot about the brotherhood of the fire service and reference to service/sacrifice and alike.  While this is all true, we all arrived here for different reasons and on different paths, and your reasons are exclusively yours.

An easier way to approach questions about your why is to think about what in the fire service initially attracted you to it. 

For some people it’s the constant change and never knowing what’s going to happen that day.

For others it’s a specific event or person in their life that affected them so much that from that point on they knew the fire service was for them. 

For me, I had a background in soccer and played in the pros for a couple years.  When I stopped, I realized what I missed the most wasn’t necessarily the game, but the camaraderie of being part of a team. 

The fire service was the closest thing that I knew of that matched what I was looking for.

Be careful though, questions about your why are easy to mess up with cliché answers. 

I want to help people, or I want to give back to the community, are probably the most common answers any interview panel has ever heard. 

There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but make sure you have some kind of unique story as to what sparked that interest.

Here are some examples of common questions asking why you are there, and how to answer them properly.

How to answer: Why do you want to be a firefighter?

This is a question I can almost guarantee you will get in some form.  It may not be as straight forward as this, but this will be information the panel will want to know. 

Whether you have a lot of reasons or one or two they should fit a few criteria.

First, if you have a cliché answer that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  You just have to be able to back it up with something unique and memorable. 

If your sole answer is I want to help people, or I want to give back to my community you won’t be doing yourself any favors.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but you will blend in with everyone else that has the exact same answer.

Second, as I said before, your reasons for wanting to work in the fire service are for you alone to determine, and whatever your reasons, they’re not bad. 

However, as I’ve also said before in this article don’t mention anything about pay, benefits, time off or anything else similar to that.  Even in a joking manner this will not be looked upon as funny and will reflect very poorly on you and your chances of getting hired.

Finally, when you answer this question, tell a story.  There have been many books written about the power of story and the impact it has on communication, but this is the key to being unique and memorable.

Now, don’t get me wrong just because you’re unique and memorable doesn’t mean you’ll get hired; there’s a lot of other things you must do and need to fall into place for that. 

Don’t forget, people remember stories, especially when they resonate with them.

For example, a couple years ago, I was working with a candidate helping him prepare for his upcoming interview.  I asked him, why do you want to be a firefighter? 

He proceeded to tell me that a long time ago (when he was a teenager) his father had passed away from cancer.

While his father was going through chemotherapy and treatment he was having all kinds of other health related issues. 

One night, his father took a turn for the worse.  It was the middle of the night and his mother called 911.  He remembered the firemen coming to his home being kind, empathetic and caring for his father as if he was their own.

He was so impressed that complete strangers would come to his home in the middle of the night, put their own lives on hold just to take care of someone he cared about. 

From then on, he knew he wanted to be a part of something like that.

What he didn’t know was that when I was a teenager, I went through an almost identical experience! 

My father passed away from cancer, and I watched complete strangers do their best to care for him.  If I was on the hiring panel for his future department, I wouldn’t hire him solely based on having a similar experience, but I can guarantee you I would remember him and his name!

Make sense?

Think about your own life and what you’ve seen and experienced.  It could be as simple as witnessing something years ago or knowing someone that impacted your life, and you just never forgot it. 

So, when was the first time you noticed the fire service?  What sparked your first interest?

How to answer: Why do you want to work for _______ Fire Department?

This can be such a tough question!  Especially when it’s a city or area you’re not from and know nothing about.  Let’s clear a couple thing up.

One, this question isn’t going to make or break your chances of employment with a particular department. 

And two, every firefighter out there knows exactly how competitive it is to get hired. 

Every officer on that panel knows that you have probably tested at every department you could and would be just as willing to accept a job offer from a neighboring city.

If you’re from that area and it’s your hometown or had some kind of great experience in this particular area, this question is easy for you to answer.

But what about the rest of us that may have never even been to that city except to drop off our application?  What are you supposed to say?

A good answer starts with you researching as much as you can about the area. 

What about that area do you like or are you attracted to? 

Make a list of these things and hold on to it.  Maybe you know someone in that area or maybe there is some other kind of personal connection to that area.  That would also be good to include on your list.

Whatever you do, don’t lie and certainly don’t say something to the effect of it pays well

Like with everything else, answering this question properly begins with you doing your research on the city/district and department to which you are applying.

How to answer: Are you on any other Fire Department hiring lists?  If you were called by another city would you leave for that department?

These are two tough questions.  Questions that I have personally received in every interview I have had.

For the first question, are you on any other fire department hiring lists?  This question is best answered by being honest which in most cases the answer is yes.

As I said before, every person on that panel knows how difficult and competitive it is to get hired, and most if not all of them would give any candidate the same advice of testing as much as you can. 

They won’t hold it against you that you are doing everything you can to achieve your goal of being a career firefighter, and if they do, trust me, that’s a place you don’t want to work.

The second question, if you were called by another city would you leave for that department? 

In my opinion, this is a bit of a loaded question. 

Going through the hiring, on-boarding, and training process is really expensive.  The tests (physical, written, polygraph, psychological etc.) all cost way more than most people realize.

After that, if you’re hired they need to spend more money for your gear, your salary, your benefits and so on. 

Once you’re hired they’re spending even more money on you training, maybe paying someone overtime for other training and more.

If a department hires you they have already invested a significant amount of money into you and your success with their department. 

If you tell them flat out that you are going to leave at the first opportunity what do you think that would do to your chances of employment?

You need to ask yourself, what’s your goal?  If your goal is to get hired and become a career firefighter, you should answer accordingly. 

Because, the truth is, you have no idea if another city is going to call. 

How to answer: Where do you see yourself in 5 years, 10 years, 20 years?

This is a typical interview questions.  It’s designed to find out what kind of drive, determination and vision you have.

This is a good time to talk about your passion for the fire service, and how this is where you see yourself for the rest of your career. 

Do you have any ambitions to expand your role through other specialties and training such as rope rescue, hazmat or water rescue? 

Do you have any aspirations to move up through the ranks in a fire department

If so, talk about those things.

Take a minute to write these things down and start using them as talking points for your answers.

Finally, here’s a video that goes over what to expect and how to answer why questions.

Situational Questions for Firefighters (How)

The dreaded situational questions!  These tend to give candidates a really hard time. 

A part of the reason is because a lot of times these, unlike the who, what, and why questions don’t relate exactly to you, your knowledge, skills and abilities.

We’re all experts about ourselves, but that’s usually not the case about difficult situations.  The types of questions that present some kind of moral, safety or ethical dilemma that leaves you wondering exactly how to answer the question. 

Yes, there is a right way to answer these questions, and yes, if you don’t answer them correctly it will reflect poorly on you.

As with the questions that ask about your knowledge, if you don’t have any actual fire service experience they probably won’t be asking you questions directly involving fire tactics.

However, they will want to know that you are able to think through situations in a logical way and make the correct decision. 

These are meant to test your problem-solving skills and give the panel an insight into how you would think through dilemmas.

Here are some examples of situational questions you may receive in an upcoming interview. 

The scenarios listed are meant to be general, the real interview will give you more specific scenarios – these are just meant to be a reference.

How to answer: How would you deal with conflicting orders on a scene?

This is a very popular question, and there’s a good chance you will be asked this in some form or another. 

Usually the question will paint the scenario as you are on the scene of an incident when the Lieutenant (Officer A) gives you orders to do one thing while a Captain/Chief (Officer B) gives you orders to do another. 

How would you respond?

Almost every accident, mistake and unfortunately death on the fire ground comes down to one thing; communication. 

It is imperative that you let the panel know you understand the importance of communication.

The truth is, 9 times out of 10 in the real world if you relayed to any officer that you were already assigned to a task he would find someone else to handle what they need.

But, a simple way to answer this question is to tell Officer B that you have already received orders from Officer A to do a certain task.

Ask Officer B if he would like you to continue doing that original task or if he would like you to begin the new task that he has assigned. 

If Officer B says he wants you to discontinue your old task and begin with the new task he has assigned, communicate to Officer A that Officer B has reassigned you to a new task, and begin working on the new task.

It is not your place as a probationary firefighter to decide what task is more important or try to do both. 

As a new guy your job in this scenario is to communicate, take orders and complete the task.  Let the logistics and priority of certain tasks be determined by the officers on a scene.

Finally, whoever the higher-ranking officer is who you should listen to.  The chain of command is very important and respected in almost every instance.

How to answer: How would you respond to an order that puts you or others in great danger?

This question can throw a lot of candidates off because they lose sight of the most important thing on the fire ground. 

Safety.  It is number one priority on any scene regardless of the scenario.

A good way to go about answering this question is to let the panel know that you understand that firefighting is inherently dangerous.  Most people don’t go into burning structures, and that alone is cause for risk.

However, you must let them know that you understand that safety of yourself and your crew are the top priorities on any scene.

Tell the panel that if you saw something that you felt was unsafe you would relay that to your officer and clarify the order. 

If you were told to continue anyways you should trust the experience and knowledge of your officer and continue with the task assigned.

How to answer: Would you ever refuse an order?

It feels odd calling this a trick question.  But, this is a trick question!

Remember what we talked about at the beginning of this section?  They, the hiring panel, want to see how you think and problem solve for yourself. 

They want to know that you’re not just a robot that will do whatever you are ordered to do regardless of the consequences.

Simply put, the answer to this question is yes, you would refuse an order.

You would (and should) refuse an order if it puts you in a situation that is an obvious threat to life safety. 

Now, we can spend all day chasing what if’s, and that’s part of what makes the job difficult. 

But, you’d be hard pressed to find any officer that would want one of their firefighters to put themselves in an obvious life-threatening situation like that just because they said so.

How to answer: How would you respond if you found drugs/alcohol in another firefighter’s locker?

Now we’re beginning to move beyond the questions that relate to the job and on to more interpersonal types of questions. 

These are important for the panel to ask as you will be spending so much time together with your future crew.  They want to know how you would act in different scenarios outside of firefighting.

The name of the game here is respect. 

It’s important should you ever have an issue with another that you approach the individual in private. 

After all, it could just be a misunderstanding and you don’t need everyone knowing about the issue.  So, step one is to approach the individual in private. 

This is where I see a lot of candidates get tripped up.

Do not ever feel as though you are supposed to look out for or cover for someone doing something that is illegal, immoral or not in line with the policies of that department. 

Doing so is not only wrong, but a danger to you and your crew. 

Remember in an earlier question when we discussed the importance of life safety?  The same applies here, and it would be irresponsible and dangerous to allow another firefighter to continue while intoxicated.

It’s important that this information is relayed to a superior officer.  Follow the chain of command appropriately, and once you have done this your job is complete. 

You have treated your fellow firefighter with respect and looked out for the safety of yourself and your crew by reporting the incident to an officer.

How to answer: How would you respond if you witnessed another firefighter steal? 

Again, this is a pretty generic scenario. 

In your interview they may paint a picture of you being at the store, doing overhaul in a house or some other scenario where you watch a fellow crew member steal something.

The same rules apply here as with the last question.  Approach the individual privately and make them aware of what you witnessed. 

After all, it may just be a misunderstanding (probably not, but you never know). 

However, if it is not a misunderstanding you absolutely must let your officer know about what you witnessed.

This gives a lot of people anxiety. 

Nobody wants to be seen as a snitch, especially when you are a probationary firefighter, but not doing something and reporting it is not only wrong, but ultimately it hurts you and the entire department. 

Never feel as though you are supposed to cover for another individual’s illegal or immoral activity.

How to answer: How would you deal with an irate citizen?

First and foremost be safe!  Are you noticing the pattern here?

Unfortunately, in today’s world people are unpredictable.  It has become a regular thing to hear in the news about police, EMS and fire personnel being attacked. 

If for any reason you feel as though this individual is a threat to you or the safety of your crew the first thing you need to do is get to safety and ask for police assistance.

But, let’s assume it’s the 90-year-old lady in the grocery store who is upset about where the fire truck was parked (yes, this happens).

Assuming that there is no threat to you or your crew, it is important that you listen to any citizen that addresses you.  Whether it’s something valid or ridiculous it’s important to respect and listen to members of the community. 

Do a quick YouTube search and you will find lots of great examples of firefighters listening to and respecting people who are out of control.

Finally, whatever their complaint, it is best practice to refer this individual to your superior officer.  Let them be the one to handle the situation as they likely have more experience and could refer them to better resources.

How to answer: How would you handle a situation where you witnessed bullying?

This is a tough question to answer.  If you’ve never been a part of the fire service before, the culture is very unique.

You’ll hear a lot of talk about the kitchen table and this is where a lot of nicknames, jokes and verbal sparring will happen.  I don’t mean that in a bad way, it’s just part of the culture and something that you will absolutely encounter at some point in your career.

It’s tough to discern what is and isn’t bullying especially in today’s world where just the word bullying can put people on edge.

The good news is that the best way to approach this question is really quite simple. 

As with any disagreement or misunderstanding it is important to approach the individual in private and make sure they are okay. 

You’ll hear a lot of people say that you have to have thick skin in the fire service, and while that is absolutely true that doesn’t make disrespect and degradation of an individual acceptable.

If you see that someone is truly being bullied, that’s unacceptable and should be reported to an officer.

Finally, here’s a video that goes over what to expect and how to answer situational (how) interview questions.

Other Firefighter Interview Info

Earlier in this article I discussed the importance of doing your research on a department before your interview starts.

Here is a simple checklist of things to keep in mind and research ahead of time.  Not all of this information will be easily accessible, but it can usually be found on the city’s website or some other form of public information:

1. City population.

2. Department apparatus.

3. Size of the city (square miles)

4. Major landmarks (large buildings, major roads, golf courses, large factories etc)

5. Department functions (fire, fire/ems, fire/ems/rescue, special capabilities, other services offered etc)

6. Number of incidents in previous years

7. Medical control

8. Chief and officers

9. Major events in the city/district

10. Major past events

Other resources you may be interested in:

What is appropriate firefighter interview attire?

Should you have a closing statement during your firefighter interview?

A quick guide to firefighter polygraphs

How to prepare for the Chief’s interview