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As stated over and over, especially on this site, the Oral Board may be the single most important component of the Firefighter hiring process. It can be a make or break phase in the testing obstacle course, and often is a step that requires the most preparation.

For those of you familiar with Fire Service testing, the Oral Board may not be as much of a mystery. But for those of you new to the testing experience, or have never made it to the Oral Board stage, you are probably wondering, “What EXACTLY is the fire service Oral Board?”

We wish the answer was a simple one, but there is no SET standard – just a series of formats and Board compilations that are cousins to each other. Our goal at Firefighter Career Training is to walk you through the process, guide you around the pitfalls, and coach you with important tips, suggestions, strategies, and mental approaches to allow you to walk out of an Oral Board as confident and successful as you were when you walked in!

The Oral Board Process Step-by-Step

Ok, first off let’s define this beast. What is an Oral Board?

An Oral Board, as least as far as the fire service goes, is an oral examination of a candidate for hire or promotion. It consists of a collection of examiners who offer up a series of questions designed to measure experience, knowledge, logic, common sense, and as we will outline momentarily, any number of other mental skills. It’s geared toward the goal of the particular exam; in other words, a hiring process Oral Board will not expect the same level of answers as a Battalion Chief’s exam. We’ll elaborate more as we go.

Depending on the fire department, district, authority, or municipality, the Oral Board makeup can vary. The common threads are the evaluators, a staple of all Oral Board exams. Some agencies will have a 3-person board; some 4, some 5. Some may just have the Chief interview you.

Find out the makeup of the Oral Board in your particular testing process. It may consist of any combination of the following personnel:

  • Firefighters
  • Fire Officers
  • Civil Service Officials
  • Board of Director Officers
  • Citizens/Civilians of the fire agencies’ area

Candidates are brought before the Board in a typically formal manner – usually identified by application or candidate number. And then the questioning begins.

Oral Boards are designed to measure the following:

  • Problem solving through scenario and situational based questioning. For a hiring process, the questions themselves don’t require fire service knowledge or fireground experience. However, the questions are set in the fire service world to evaluate a candidate’s ability to be confronted with an issue and to grade their ability to not only thing their way through it, but to also be able to articulate that ability orally to a group of evaluators.
  • Ethics and values are measured through situational awareness questions. If you witness a fellow firefighter committing a theft, how will you respond? A fellow recruit cheats on an Academy exam – what do you do to address the situation? The goal of these questions is to determine your level of honesty and trustworthiness in the firehouse, on the fireground, and in our daily interactions with a very trusting and loyal public.
  • Personal history helps build a portrait of yourself for this group of strangers who know you as nothing more that a candidate. What is your educational experience? Work experience? Upbringing? Exposure to the emergency or fire service? What do you bring to the table that sets you apart from the other mess of candidates?
  • Familiarity with the department you are seeking to join. How many members? How big is the district? How many calls? How many ladder trucks? Special teams? Opportunities for advancement and promotion? By answering these you demonstrate your desire to gain employment and that you cared enough to do your homework about this place where you will hopefully build a career.

Pre Oral Board

Depending on the department, we’ll assume here that you have made it through the early steps of the testing process. Thanks to Fire Career Training’s assistance in preparation you have scored high on the written exam, and placed well on the physical ability test. Now, the Oral Board is looming.

So, where do you start? First off, ask yourself some questions that primarily will guide your thinking throughout an Oral Board exam. Secondly, these may be actual questions asked in an Oral Board – it’s a win-win in the term of preparation andreadiness!

Here’s a sampling:

  • What have I done to prepare myself for this job?
  • What do I know about the department I am testing for?
  • Why do I want to work for THIS department?
  • When have I ever been involved in an emergency or like situation, and how did I respond?
  • What are your biggest strengths? Weaknesses?

How am I a team player?

Like we said, this was just a sampling. Fire Career Training can equip you with several dozen more comparable questions to prepare you.

One of the best tools for preparation involves a little legwork on your part. It revolves around the following question:

How would your friends and family describe you?

Now, this question may be asked by an Oral Board exactly as it reads here. Or different variations of it designed to determine your personality traits, quirks, likes, and dislikes. In other words, what makes you, you?

To formulate a valid answer, ask these very people. They know you best and will be honest, perhaps to a fault. But, it will give you the information you need to adequately answer the question. Maybe you are seen as “driven”, but have never described yourself in that way. Now, you have a huge positive to throw into an answer. If they see you as “unmotivated” then you now have a trait you may not want to include.

Fire Career Training offers so many tips lie this. For every question, we have a strategy to answer it. We’re not giving you the answers or cookie cutter replies. We’re helping you to formulate responses that tout your positives, demonstrate and display your uniqueness, and allow you to learn to be more confident about who you are. EVERYONE brings something to the table. The question for you is, “what?”


Wear a sharp suit, and knock ‘em dead!

The Basics:

  • BE ON TIME – Prudence is a hallmark of the fire service. We don’t arrive late to emergency calls! If you can’t be on time to a job interview, how badly do you really want the job? If you are early and the Oral Boards are progressing along ahead of schedule, then how good does it look that you are there and ready to go? High marks, my friend!
  • Eat a good meal – the old staple. A little nutrition goes a long way. Think of it as mental sustenance.
  • Dress like it matters. This is a business interview. Business professional attire is a must. No Oral Board in the world cares about your collection of cool t-shirts. Jeans are comfy, but not all the rage in the interview room. Look smart. A professional look conveys a professional demeanor. The fire service is all about professionalism. Dress like you belong there.
  • Lose the stubble, the uncombed hair, and pierced lip. When you are done with the Oral Board, go back to the personal appearance you love. But for an interview, groomed candidates always have a leg up on the competition. You don’t see too many scruffy looking firefighters after all, do you?
  • Check your posture. Body language is huge. I’ll take a confident, upright, eye-contact- making candidate over a slouch looking at the floor every day of the week. Impressions are huge. Unfair? Probably. But this is a very subjective portion of the hiring process.
  • Speak clearly, slowly, with a mind on your tone, inflection, volume, and vocabulary. Being able to articulate a point is a priceless asset in the Oral Board environment. Along this line, cut down the use of the “umms” and “uhs.” It makes you sound as if you are scrambling for an answer.
  • Fire Career Training offers time with one-on-one or three-on-one coaching through all of these steps. You will be amazed at how ready you will be!



What can I say? Accompanying you today are your nerves. They can be a friend or foe. Nerves are expected. And learning to anticipate them and using them to your advantage is a hallmark of the Fire Career Training approach.

If you are prone to the pitfalls of being nervous, then we can help. It is normal to be nervous. This is a big deal. A career may hinge on your ability to control your nerves! But to the point that you can’t think, process words to formulate a response, or focus on your mental resume to answer an interviewer? Well, let’s not say abnormal – but definitely a detriment. This is why preparation is so important. By preparing well, practicing your Q&A’s, and doing a modicum of research, what would normally be a question that would rattle now becomes an opportunity to shine. Nerves get pushed aside, and confidence for each ensuing question grows.


The reality is, for most departments we are looking for a select few. This may mean 10 new recruits, or it may mean 100. Either way, it’s a fraction of the entire applicant pool. So, think of it like this:

Anywhere Fire Department is buying fifteen people. We only need 15. Why should we buy you? Give us your best sales pitch. What do you bring that Joe Applicant who just interviewed does not? What makes you the guy I want in the burning building? On the pediatric CPR? Around the firehouse on a slow day? Around the kitchen table everyday? Sell me!!


A pitfall to be sure. Confidence is essential. Cockiness is not. Our coaching can help you to not only find that line, but how to toe it. It is part of the big sell. We want to know about what makes you special, but to a point.


Everything mentioned here are tools to help you be prepared and to perform successfully in an Oral Board. Your confidence and self-assuredness will wave the flag that you want this job. It entirely ok to even mention how important this process is to you. Believe me; an Oral Board will already know this based on your demeanor and answers. But don’t ever beg for a job. It is the quickest way to lose whatever advantages you had going your way.

We have just scratched the surface of what Fire Career Training can offer you in the Oral Board Prep phase. For more information, or to schedule a coaching session, please contact us at: info@firecareertraining.com