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Tips On How to Get Promoted in the Fire Service

Updated on November 24, 2016
Akwasi Maru profile image

Akwasi Maru has been a firefighter for fifteen years. He currently holds the rank of Fire Captain.

Train, Educate yourself, and Listen

To be promoted in the fire service, you must train, educate yourself, and listen. The fire chiefs or other elected officials would like to select the best candidates for the position. And employees with positive attitudes are ahead of the competition due to their frame of mind. Coming up through the ranks I often heard firefighters talking bad about the fire department and if these types of people are lucky enough to get promoted they often make terrible officers.

The rules and regulations are the foundations of any job. Knowing the rules and abiding by them will not only keep candidates out of trouble but will educate them on departmental policies. Once an employee walks through the door of employment, is when the promotion process starts. Sitting on the sofa drinking coffee is not a good start for the promotional process. When there is free time at the station, with no public service details an aspiring officer should train and educate themselves. Try to complete courses on-line, watch training videos, read the fire related material, and ask questions.

Many departments are now requiring their officers and chiefs to have formal education. To add, it would be in the best interest of a striving officer to obtain a minimum of an associate's degree in fire science or related fields, but preferably a bachelor's degree. Some employers are even hiring young firefighters who already have a college education, and with that said senior firefighters who do not have degrees have competition on their tails.

Some departments have their promotional process in plain black and white as to what classes and training a person can take for promotion. On other departments, it is not as plain, and it is of utmost importance to get all the training and qualifications for a promotion. Search the Internet for promotional books and start building a library for reference material.

Many promotional exams have an oral, written, and problem-solving section and with that said oral skills would play a significant role in your grading. Record yourself and re-watch often to see your facial expression, your voice tone, and your body language to critique you for perfection. If not already a student considers going back to school as mentioned before to educate yourself and improve your critical thinking skills, as well as writing skills.

Earn yourself a white shirt
Earn yourself a white shirt | Source

Assessment Center

Years ago the fire service only had promotions based on hands-on skills, written exams, or simply a fire chief selecting you. However, nowadays to keep things fair a good deal of fire department is using an assessment center to get qualified candidates.

I have experienced an assessment center type testing for all three of my ranks. I also have been an assessor for this kind of exam. A typical assessment center has three parts:

  • Communication exercise ( To test oral communication skills)
  • Written exercise (To test writing skills)
  • Problem-solving (To test departmental knowledge and management skills)

During the oral communication part, you may have to give a presentation, a press conference, size-up a fire scene, and even teach a subject.

For the written exercise, it could be an essay on why you are qualified for the position, a pre-plan, operation plan, after action report (AAR), or a five-year administrative plan.

In the problem-solving section, role-playing could be a part of it. More than likely it would be something like dealing with an employee who may be having a drug problem, training issues, absenteeism, or problems working with other co-workers, etc.

As a candidate, you want to be prepared for anything they throw at you. Some departments even have a Civil Service Board that will interview candidates before moving on to the assessment center phase. In some cases, departments only have a Civil Service Board, and with that said you might want to tighten up on interview questions. A good book on this is How to Excel at Fire Department Exams.

How to Prepare for the Fire Assessment Center, Demo with Chief Freddie

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Steps to take for promotion

Kastros (2006) suggested many knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) to being an excellent officer. According to Kastros (2006) listed some notable KSAs:

  • Oral communication skills
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Written communication skills
  • Motivation skills
  • Delegation skills
  • Empowerment skills among others

From the start, listen to current officers and how they handle themselves on fire and EMS calls. Pay close attention to how they set things up and request additional resources. All advice given that is right, please listen, and all information that is negative listen but do not act on it, however, use it as a motivation of what to not tell your future subordinates.

  • Seek out websites to help guide your thinking such as:
  • Consider the use of affirmations.
  • Take a public speaking class.
  • Consider meditation and visualization.
  • Study, Study, and Study.
  • Train, Train, and do more training.
  • Download all possible fire related apps in existence to your cellphone or tablet that you can afford.
  • And of course ask your current supervisors for help.


Xu (2013), stated three reasons to get a fire science degree and the importance of education in advancement through the ranks of the fire service. I have first-hand experience in the promotional process. I was quickly promoted from the rank of Private to Captain within a five year period. My promotion from Sergeant to Lieutenant took as little as 15 months. For the rank of Captain, I was promoted within a three year period only because the testing process didn't happen as fast. I scored within the top 10 on all of my promotional exams. For Sergeant #9 out of 100 plus candidates, Lieutenant #3 out of 60 candidates, and finally for Captain #1 out of about 28 candidates.

I have certain techniques that I use listed in this article and others I keep to myself. However, feel free to email me at for more information, and I will be willing to share my experiences through the promotion process. One thing to note that I did for every single promotional process is that I never stayed home the night before the exam. I've always stayed in a hotel the night before, and it has become a ritualistic tradition for me, and it has proven to be successful. Sometimes the family gets in the way, and a clear mind that's well rested can take a person a long way throughout a promotional process. Hopefully, the tips to getting promoted will find you successfully someday. Remember to Train to master your craft, Educate yourself, and Listen to your supervisors (the good ones).

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Kastros, A. (2006). Mastering the fire service assessment center. Tulsa, OK: PennWell Corporation.

Xu, E. (2013). 3 Reasons a fire science degree is worth it. Retrieved from


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    • Akwasi Maru profile imageAUTHOR

      Akwasi Maru 

      4 years ago from Macon, Georgia

      Thanks, you were a great listener. I knew you was going to get promoted.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Excellent written article!!! I've used your tips that you've provided through email at an earlier date. Thanks to your training I was recently promoted to Sergeant. One thing I've learned from your training is that I'm responsible for my own destiny.

    • Akwasi Maru profile imageAUTHOR

      Akwasi Maru 

      4 years ago from Macon, Georgia

      Thanks Shaun!

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Great stuff I actually applied some of these same techniques. By staying the course and using the process above I was promoted from the rank of Lt. to Battalion Chief. I bypassed the rank of Captain. I truly believe that everyday you report for duty you should be preparing yourself for where you want to be. I remember in my closing statement of my Chief's interview telling the Fire Chief (You must know where you're going long before you get there).


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