Recently I noted an on-line post that discussed hiring for character. This has been a debate among my colleagues in the fire service. Some believe we should hire for certification and knowledge in fire and EMS skills, arguing that this is what we are paid to perform, thus personnel should be best at this skill. Others to include myself have argued that we hire for character and values alignment, as well as intellectual abilities and that we train the technical competencies of fire and EMS. I can state that in my early years, I believed in hiring the most talented firefighter and paramedic, but as I have ascended the ranks in the fire department, as well as studied companies that are know for high performance, I have changed to the character idea. Let’s examine why we would hire for each philosophy.
A Technical Driven Profession
Many people, including myself believed that we should hire the most technically competent and technically experienced person due to the highly technical nature of the firefighting profession. Because the job requires many technical aspects, such as knowing how to operate a mirid of equipment and being able to perform tasks based on policy and procedures, but also know when the policy and procedure will not work and find a solution that is outside of the box that solves the problem, the technical competence and experience do seem to work best. Afterall, if we have a person that con not think on their feet or know how to perform the need tasks, this person is a failure to the community due to lack of producing a needed solution that may mean a citizen dies.
A Value Driven Organization
The technical aspects of the job are very important, but let’s examine why its important to ensure we have a person with the proper character. If the highly talented person believes that they are too talented to answer some types of calls, such as calls to the nursing home because this is beneath them, it is likely that the care that would be offered will be subpar and the citizen will be unhappy. Often its how you are treated that matters most in a time of need, not completely the outcome.
The fire service is a service-based organization. Despite the technical aspects of our jobs, we all entered with a service mind at the core of our reason to join, not to mention the cool stuff the recruiters said we would get to do. Because of this service minded profession, we can adopt hiring, promotion, and retention models from Southwest Airlines, Chik-fil-a, and other high-profile companies that focus on culture and values. These companies continue to deliver the needs of their customer year after year because of the good people choices. While we are not in the business of making a profit, we are in the customer satisfaction business and many fire service organizations need to keep the customer happy to ensure that levies are voted upon in a positive fashion by that very same customer.
Balancing the Talent and Values
Because firefighters and paramedics need certifications, we must ensure we hire and promote based on a balance of talent and values. Hiring a person with great values that does not process the cognitive ability to pass the certification tests will only be a waste of hiring. We must ensure both factors are present in sufficient quantities to produce the proper candidate.
I suggest that the initial written testing test for cognitive abilities, such as English, reading comprehension, mathematical computation, and reasoning. Next, we can test for physical abilities. This can come in the form of the CPAT test, which is the known metric agreed upon by the IAFC and the IAFF for physical abilities to perform firefighting duties. Next, a psychological testing assessment can be conducted. There are many on-line versions and some in-person versions. Each has advantages and disadvantages. The key is to have a background by testing existing employees and determining how the test coincides with the behaviors that you see each day. Next is a background that scans for criminal or illegal behavior. Your local laws will dictate what you can do in terms of testing in this area. Finally, those who pass all of the testing can be interviewed. Some may argue that interviewing should come early, but I have not seen anyone come in and tell the interview panel that they have a poor set of values and commit criminal actions on a regular basis. Why not eliminate all of this prior to spending your staff time interviewing.