The Firefighter Recruitment Process: How To Join The UK Fire Service

Become A Firefighter

The UK Fire Service are one of the most elite and respected organisations in the country. With this in mind, the recruitment criteria to become a firefighter is extremely strict, and you will have to pass a wide variety of assessments in order to gain entry into the service. In this blog, we’ll explore the Firefighter recruitment process, what it involves, and how you can pass!

Firefighter Recruitment Application

The very first stage of the selection process is to complete the firefighter pre-application checklist, and the online application form. The application form is one of the first stages of the firefighter selection process and it is probably the hardest to get through. You will be applying alongside many hundreds of other applicants, and therefore your application form needs to be good.

Before we move on to how you should consider completing the form, read the following two important notes:

  1. Firefighters do not generally retire before their determined retirement date. The reason for this is because it is an exceptional job. Fire services rarely advertise firefighter posts, so the competition is very fierce when firefighter vacancies do eventually become available. Therefore, your application needs to be very good.
  2. Picture the scene – a Fire service assessor has been marking application forms for the last two weeks. It is late Friday afternoon and they come across your application form. Your application form is hard to read, full of grammar errors and is incomplete in a number of sections. Do you think the form will get through?

It is crucial that your application form is concise, easy to read, neat, and completed in all the relevant sections. Take your time to complete a solid application. If you have the time, spend a week completing the form and answer the assessable questions in draft first before committing pen to paper. If you are completing an online application then complete your responses in draft first using a notepad or a similar tool.

Assessment of Personal Qualities

This section of the application form is designed to assess your personal qualities and attributes against that of a firefighter. When responding to the questions in this section you can draw on any of your experiences either from your home life, leisure activities, work (paid or unpaid) or education.

The questions are usually divided into 3 parts, as follows:

  • What you did or what was the situation?
  • What role did you play? Or, why did you do what you did?
  • What happened as a result of your actions?

When answering these three questions, try to think about what the firefighter’s role involves. Don’t just mention the operational aspect of the role but remember the important sides of Community Fire Safety, reducing fires and risk, and also training. The skills required to become a firefighter are many and varied.

Make sure you visit the website of the Fire service that you are applying to join. Visit a fire station and ask the local firefighters what they do and what their role involves.

firefighter careers

The Firefighter Recruitment Tests

No matter which Fire and Rescue Service you want to join, you’ll need to pass several written ability tests to get recruited. These tests are designed to assess your cognitive skills in several areas, and allow recruiters to evaluate how suitable you are for the non-physical side of the role.

As a firefighter, you need to be able to make correct decisions under serious time constraints, and make use of many skills such as mathematical aptitude and situational awareness. As such, recruiters are keen to test these skills during the notoriously tough recruitment process.

Most services do so using the National Firefighter Ability (NFA) Tests, which consist of the following:

  • The Working with Numbers Test.
  • The Understanding Information Test.
  • The Situational Awareness and Problem-Solving Test.
  • The National Firefighter Questionnaire.

The NFA Tests you’ll face will usually consist of multiple-choice questions. The assessments themselves will normally be carried out at a local test centre or Fire service establishment, and will take approximately three hours to complete. You will receive full details about the tests prior to the test day. But you also need to be aware that some Fire and Rescue Services incorporate other ability tests – such as verbal reasoning and mechanical reasoning tests – into their processes.

firefighter checking service

The NFA Working with Numbers Test

This multiple-choice test assesses your ability to understand and work with the kinds of numerical information that a firefighter is likely to experience whilst carrying out his or her role.

The test requires candidates to perform combinations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, as well as estimations of numerical data. The test usually consists of 32 questions, which must be answered within a set time limit. The questions are usually based around different Fire service-related scenarios, each with five or six related questions. The scenarios used may cover the following areas:

  • Reading gauges at a factory fire;
  • Monitoring fuel supplies;
  • Using breathing apparatus;
  • Managing hoses;
  • Injuries and fire deaths in the home;
  • Using hoses at a fire.

Understanding Information Test

The Understanding Information test is designed to assess your ability to learn and retain information. Firefighters need to be capable of learning lots of job specific information. They also need to be able to retain that information so that they can use it during training and whilst attending operational incidents.

There are plenty of policies and procedures to learn, and you will also need to be fully conversant with the operating manuals for your equipment and your Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). If you can successfully pass this Firefighter recruitment test then there is a good chance that you will be able to apply the same skills to the role of a firefighter. During this test you will be presented with a written passage and it is your job to read the text carefully before answering a series of questions based on the information provided.

You may also find that the information provided is presented by video or in verbal format. If this is the case then you may be permitted to take notes during the presentation. After reading the passage, your options are True, False or Cannot Say based on the information provided. Remember to answer the questions based solely on the information provided and do not make the mistake of assuming.

Situational Awareness and Problem Solving

This Firefighter recruitment test assesses an applicant’s ability to ensure the safety of themselves and others and also their ability to use information in order to solve problems.

The test requires you to read descriptions of situations or scenarios that you are likely to face when working as a firefighter. You will then be presented with four answers and you must choose the answer that most closely describes what you would do in that situation. It is important to understand that firefighters must be capable of working both safely and unsupervised. Answer the questions carefully and think about the scenario before you respond.

The real test has 30 questions and you will have 35 minutes to complete them. It is up to you to read each question very carefully before selecting your answer. Before you try the sample test, take a look at the following example test question.

Example Test Question – Situational Awareness and Problem Solving

Whilst on duty, you overhear a conversation between two firefighters. One of them is making inappropriate comments about the other firefighter’s gender. What would you do?

  1. Ignore the comments and carry on with my work. Banter is part and parcel of Fire service life.
  2. Join in with the comments. It’s only a bit of fun and if the other person cannot take it, then they shouldn’t be in the job.
  3. Immediately challenge the inappropriate behaviour and explain how the comments are not in line with organisational policy.
  4. Report the comments to my line manager. It is their responsibility to deal with this kind of issue.

The correct answer to this question is:

  1. Immediately challenge the inappropriate behaviour and explain how the comments are not in line with organisational policy.

No form of bullying, harassment or inappropriate comments are tolerated in the fire service. It is your responsibility to proactively challenge them. How do we know this if we are not already serving in the Fire service? The simple answer is that if you learn and understand the PQAs, then you will be able to answer the question.

Firefighter Recruitment Interview

Each stage of the application process is very important, but you will probably find that this is the one stage that causes you the most nerves. In fact, if you don’t feel nervous leading up to and during your interview, then you are less likely to perform to your maximum capability.

If you have reached this stage of the selection process, then the Fire recruitment service are interested in employing you. They want to meet you face to face in order to see what you are like as a person and also whether you really do have the skills required to become a firefighter.

The interview is usually a relatively informal affair that is designed to assess your knowledge of the firefighter’s role and in particular how you can meet the personal qualities and attributes that are relevant to the role. Whilst the majority of questions are usually based around the PQAs, you should also prepare for the more generic type of interview questions.

How long will the interview last for?

The interview should last no longer than 1 hour. Usually between 45 and 50 minutes is the norm, but this will depend on the length of your responses.

What should I wear to the interview?

You will not normally be assessed on your dress, but it is strongly advised that you wear a formal outfit such as a suit. Make sure your shoes are clean and polished, and do not wear white socks or ones with cartoon characters on them!

What is the purpose of the interview?

The main purpose of the firefighter recruitment interview is to talk about you and your interest in becoming a firefighter, and then to look at some areas of your experience in more detail.

Is everyone asked the same set of questions?

Yes, they are. This is so that the process is fair and everyone gets the same chance.

How many people will be on the panel?

This depends on the service you are applying to join. There could be 2, 3, or even 4 people on the panel. They could be a mix of uniformed personnel and non-uniformed personnel. There will usually be someone on the panel from the Human Resources department to ensure the interview is fair and consistent.

How will the interview commence?

The panel will ask you to sit down and introduce themselves to you. There will be a glass of water on the table in front of you, and you will be asked to make yourself comfortable. Whilst it is acceptable to make yourself feel comfortable, do remember that you are being assessed ,so make sure you watch your interview technique.

The panel will then explain the purpose of the interview to you. They will state that they are going to ask you for specific examples of what you have done in different situations. It is okay to draw from examples from home, work, school, college, or hobbies. It is advisable that you draw from a variety of different experiences.

How will I be assessed?

You will normally be assessed against the Personal Qualities and Attributes that are relevant to the role of a firefighter, but this will very much depend on the Fire and Rescue Service that you are applying to join.

The key assessment areas are as follows:

  • Commitment to excellence;
  • Commitment to development;
  • Commitment to diversity and integrity (this area carries the most importance);
  • Communicating effectively.

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4 thoughts on “The Firefighter Recruitment Process: How To Join The UK Fire Service

  1. Sebastian reeve says:

    Hi I would love the chance to be able to join your crew as I have always wanted to become a firefighter I am fit and healthy and would love to try my dream job

  2. Eric Hele says:

    I’m looking for the fire fighting job department, I’m unemployed long time& i live in Wellington Boland.

    • Gemma Butler says:

      Hi Przemek, to apply for a role with a UK fire service you must have the right to work in the UK and many services will require that you live within a specified distance of the station. As long you meet this criteria (along with their other eligibility requirements) you can apply.

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