With each FRS using different methods to select firefighter trainees, it’s very difficult to track what works and what doesn’t. With damning reports on inappropriate behaviour and poor demonstration of core ethics and values, and a persistent lack of representation in the Service, it’s time to look at this issue in greater depth.

Many FRS’s use psychometrics as a first sift. These can cover aptitude tests on maths, verbal reasoning and spatial awareness. These tests are offered by several of the main psychometric test publishers. The majority have been developed for a general population i.e. not specifically designed for the FRS. Tests which seek to obtain information of an applicant’s likely style of behaviour have tended to be based on previously used criteria, not current to today’s behavioural frameworks and standards such as the NFCC Leadership Qualities, Code of Ethics or Values.

These tests serve a purpose as an initial sift, but from there exercises need to be more targeted and measure current FRS criteria in order to be valid.

Application forms are still commonly used, tying up internal teams for significant periods while they sift through thousands of applications. From there, selection processes can be rather ‘wild west’ territory, with a mix of methods such as presentations, roleplays, group discussions, interviews, multiple mini-interviews (think speed dating), group tasks. With departments under pressure the validation of methods is rare. Which means that, more often than not, there is NO objective data to support whether these time-consuming and costly methods are even identifying suitable candidates.

If we don’t know if the FRS is selecting applicants with the right mix of aptitudes, attitudes, values and behaviours, should it come as any surprise that we’re hearing about problematic cultural norms and behaviours later on?

The answer would seem to be establishing greater consistency in recruitment processes. This will allow for proper evaluation of methods and outcomes. We need to tighten up on scoring and data integration of different exercises across different formats, and build in longitudinal studies to ensure applicants with the behaviours and values the community needs are chosen for a job they have been reliably tested and assessed for.

Case Study

The VCA firefighter selection ‘Community Exercise’ (delivered through the Career Progression Gateway online platform, or face to face, as preferred) offers a comprehensive assessment of the NFCC Leadership Qualities using the combined elements of a written, presentation and roleplay exercise. It can therefore prove an excellent stage to sit between the early sifting and final interview behavioural assessments (physical/ medical stages are separate to this). Because it covers a range of skills and behavioural criteria in one exercise The Community Exercise is very effective. Plus, administration and assessment processes can be outsourced; this type of high volume assessment is surprisingly affordable and reduces pressure of internal teams immeasurably.

In the Community Exercise candidates have 20 minutes to read key ‘community project’ information. They present their evaluation of the information, either in person or via video call, to an assessor (FRS or one of our psychologists) who plays the role of their team supervisor. After the presentation the assessor will ask standardised questions in character, to explore understanding, attitudes and values. Candidate performance is measured using a scoring key which is aligned to a Leadership Quality and Motivational Fit Interview, which can also be managed in-house or remotely by an outsourced team. The Community Exercise has been used over 3 campaigns, by 2 services for over 250 candidates. Performance in the Community Exercise correlates well with later interview scores, indicating good consistency of results.