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Every once in a while, I look back on the individuals I hired as firefighters during my career. As the hiring process is a relatively complicated, I believe I made the right decisions in the hiring and rejection of candidate firefighters. That I made the right decisions was reaffirmed the other day when I stopped by one of my stations to check on crew deployed to Eastern Washington fighting the wildland fires and were met by several firefighters and staff members I hired. For some odd reason, they all said individually and collectively, “Thanks for hiring me Chief. I really appreciated the opportunity”.

As a retired Deputy Chief, it was an emotional event for me as I looked around and all of the individuals I hired a number of years ago ranged from newly minted Battalion Chiefs to salty Lieutenants and Captains. One individual, a former Marine, was hired in the Vehicle Maintenance Division as a mechanic and is now leading this Division as the supervisor.

On the opposite side of hiring, I ran into an individual I did not hire and he reminded me why I did not hire him. The reasons were many but the reason that sticks out for me was that he had 5 jobs with other organizations prior to applying to mine and during the interview process, I asked him what was going on and why so many jobs. He honestly answered that he felt he did not fit in to those organizations and he would do a better job with mine. OK, big challenge in the decision process for me. At the end of the day, and after all of the interviews were completed, I did not hire this individual. He ended up hired by another fire department and so far has been working out and most recently he was promoted to Lieutenant. Would he had worked out in my organization? Who knows, but at the time, I felt offering another individual an opportunity to work in my department and would fit into my organization was worth the risk and effort.

The hiring process involves many facets from the application submission, to the written examination and physical ability test to the oral interviews. Even those who are selected go on to the Medical and Psychological, and a comprehensive background check, a few candidates do not survive this process. Then there is the recruit academy and probationary period. At the end of this process, you hope you made the right decision when you sent a letter to the candidate inviting them to join your department.

All departments and leaders face this introspective question of, “did I hire the right person for my department?” The reality is “time will tell”. I have had outstanding employees implode after four or five years due to many reasons and the question you will ask is, “what happened” and “I thought I made the right decision.” You did make the right decision during the hiring process but due to many factors, not in your control, something went sideways during their career. Hopefully you can salvage this valuable employee to re-enter the workplace as a productive firefighter.

Hiring an individual to be a part of your organization is complicated and the more evaluation steps in place to assist you to make this important decision is critical. Please do not make the process discriminatory against certain groups that would include unreasonable physical ability tests; home grown written tests or a loaded oral interview panel that you up hiring those who look like your organization – generally white and male. Your hiring process needs to be crafted so the most qualified individuals are eligible for hire regardless of race or gender. Also listen to your  "gut instincts". The candidate that placed lower in the testing process, yet is sitting for an oral interview may end up being the best employee you have ever hired. Do not get tunnel vision and keep an open mind in your evaluations and decisions.

After 15 or more years, as you tour your stations, you may a receive this ultimate complement of, “Thanks for hiring me Chief, I appreciated the opportunity”

For more information on this topic please contact me at 206-940-6502 or at

John K. Murphy JD, MS, PA-C, EFO, Deputy Fire Chief (Ret), has been a member of the career fire service since 1974, beginning his career as a firefighter & paramedic and retiring in 2007 as a Deputy Fire Chief and Chief Training Officer. He is a licensed attorney in Washington State and in New York and is a licensed Physician’s Assistant in Washington State. Mr. Murphy consults with fire departments and other public and private entities on operational risk management, response litigation, employment policy and practices liability, personal management, labor contracts, internal investigations and discipline, and personal injury litigation. He serves as an expert witness involving fire department litigation and has been involved in numerous cases across the country. He is a frequent Legal contributor to Fire Engineering Magazine, participant in Fire Service Court Blog Radio, curator of the Fire Engineering Policy Bank, NFA Instructor and a national speaker on fire service legal issues.


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Comment by John K. Murphy on September 2, 2015 at 1:33pm

Amen Joseph. Thanks for the comment

Comment by Joseph Kitchen on September 2, 2015 at 11:36am

Great post John. I couldn't agree more - the hiring decisions we make are so important & can make a huge impact on the agency for decades to come. I am sure when you heard, "Thanks for hiring me Chief." it made your day!

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