Probationary Fire Private Testing Process

To identify the most highly-qualified applicants, a series of tests will be conducted by the City of St. Louis Department of Personnel, assisted by the St. Louis Fire Department and a professional testing consultant.


The Probationary Fire Private examination process is highly competitive. Hundreds of applicants will compete for a limited number of positions. To identify the most highly-qualified applicants, a series of tests will be conducted by the City of St. Louis Department of Personnel, assisted by the St. Louis Fire Department and a professional testing consultant. All of the tests have been validated by the consultant in accordance with federal laws and professional guidelines.

At each stage of the selection process, only some applicants will be invited to move on to the next stage. The final outcome will be a list of candidates who are eligible for hire as a Probationary Fire Private. The list is typically active for at least two years and the Fire Department will fill vacant positions from this list. Not everyone who makes it to the final list will necessarily be hired. Hiring is solely at the discretion of the Fire Commissioner.

Below is a description of previous testing components from at least 2003 to present:

Stage 1: Written Test

The Written Test component is developed and validated by a professional testing consultant. Previous written tests have assessed basic reading comprehension skill and personality traits that are predictive of future successful on-the-job performance for Probationary Fire Privates. The consultants used reading comprehension tests based on national norms for a 10th grade reading level, which is the average reading difficulty of materials that a Probationary Fire Private must read during training and working on-the-job in the St. Louis Fire Department.

Previous Written Test components have also included a pre-employment personality test which typically measured workplace behaviors such as: reliability, dependability, motivation, and conscientiousness. It also predicted which applicants will exhibit these behaviors if hired. These types of tests also measured interpersonal skills and the ability to deal objectively with many different types of people in order to predict an applicant’s ability to work well with co-workers and members of the public. (In the Fire Service, the general public is the customer.) The testing consultants recommend passing scores based on research conducted with thousands of job applicants, demonstrating that persons who score above a certain level are likely to perform well if hired.

Stage 2: Physical Abilities Test

This test measured physical strength and endurance by simulating real firefighting job tasks. The test included different events that must be performed one after another until applicants have completed all of them. Applicants are typically timed as they perform the events. The passing scores used on previous tests by our consultants have been based on studies in which actual Firefighters were timed as they performed the test events. Throughout the testing course, safety guidelines such as not running were followed to mimic safety protocols followed on fire scenes. You do not need prior experience as a firefighter to perform this test, but you do need to be in excellent physical condition. This test was conducted at the Fire Department’s training academy. During the test, applicants wore heavy work gloves, a helmet, fire coat, and an air tank provided by the Fire Department. This equipment is for safety and simulates real firefighting conditions. It weighed about 35 pounds.

The events on each PAT are subject to change from exam to exam and consultant to consultant. Previous PAT events have included: using a rope and pulley to lift the top section of an extension ladder (about 40 pounds) and/or physically raising, mounting, lowering, and walking with the extension ladder; using a rope to lift and lower a hose bundle several stories over the side of a building; carrying a bundle of hose (about 55 pounds) up several flights of stairs and back down; pulling the starter cord on a gas-powered saw to simulate starting it (the saw was switched off for safety reasons); a forcible entry simulation that has involved striking a flat metal plate, mounted on the ground, with a sledgehammer until applicants generate the amount of force required to break a hole in a roof or door (no specific number of blows, but most people require 30 - 50 blows); a forcible entry simulation with a sledgehammer and a piece of equipment called the Keiser Sled developed specifically for fire service testing and training exercises; dragging a fire hose that is full of water under pressure (about 50 pounds) for a distance of 50 feet; dragging an uncharged fire hose for a similar distance, and a victim rescue that involves dragging a simulated victim. The distance has varied on previous tests and the weight of the victim has ranged anywhere from between 135 - 185 pounds.

Stage 3: Structured Oral Interview

The Structured Oral Interview included the same questions for every candidate. The questions were developed by the consultant and measured an applicant’s ability to handle problems, work with others, handle stress or emergencies, and work hard even when it is difficult. The questions focus on how you behaved in past situations or how you would behave in a hypothetical situation. You will be asked to describe some of your own experiences and how you behaved in those situations. This means that you will not be able to give answers like, “I always handle problems well” or “I think I'd make a good Fire Private because . . . .” Rather, you will be required to describe a specific time when you faced a particular type of situation, and describe how you handled that situation. To the extent possible, you should describe things you have done in a work or work-like setting, but if you can’t think of a relevant work situation, then it is okay to describe things you have done in school or non-work settings.

Your answers will be scored by a panel of interviewers. All interviewers will be carefully trained by the professional test consulting firm and they will use a carefully structured set of rating scales, to ensure that they are all using the same standards when evaluating your answers. On past Structured Oral Interviews, an applicant’s final interview score was the total score summed across all questions, then averaged across the interview panel members. There typically has been no pass-fail cutoff on the structured interview.

Creating a Final Ranked List

The examination components and their weights for each Probationary Fire Private examination are developed by the professional testing consultant. The test weights are based on their job analysis study. Tests that measure abilities important for a large number of Probationary Fire Private job duties receive a higher weight than tests that measure abilities important for a smaller number of Probationary Fire Private job duties.

Applicants who achieve passing scores on the Written Test, Physical Abilities Test (PAT), and Structured Oral Interview components of the Probationary Fire Private examination process will receive a final, weighted score. This will be a weighted sum of scores from each stage of the testing process. Before candidates who pass the Written Test, PAT, and Structured Oral Interview test components receive their final weighted score and are certified as eligible for hire by the Department of Personnel, they will have to pass a character investigation. The Department of Personnel will notify candidates by mail of their test results for each examination component. Upon acceptance of an employment offer from the Fire Department, applicants will need to successfully pass a pre-employment medical examination before beginning the Fire Academy. Candidates will be required to pass an oral swab drug screen as part of the medical examination. Probationary Fire Privates and Fire Privates are subject to random drug screens and alcohol tests as a condition of their employment.

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