How to Build and Maintain Great Firefighter References

One of the most overlooked gems of getting hired as a career firefighter is building and maintaining a great reference. In the small world we live in, you never know who knows who and more specifically, what they have noticed about you. The fire service is generally quite small and someone always knows someone who knows someone so….it's important to keep your nose clean.


A great thing to remember with any job is to treat it like it’s the last job you will have before getting hired by your dream department, because it may be.

With that in mind, could you imagine getting sunk in a reference check because you, “aren’t motivated, put your own goals ahead of the company’s or worse yet, have an attendance problem? All because you don’t like the job and it doesn’t really matter?”

If you are actively applying to FD’s that call could come at any time, is your performance worthy of a great reference?


As a Deputy Chief who has many qualified paid-on-call (POC) FF’s that would make excellent career FF’s, I’m often asked if I would supply a reference. As a DC of a POC department, I find it extremely rewarding to have my FF’s hired by career departments. It shows you must be doing a great job teaching and molding your FF’s.

With that being said, I’m also asked to supply a reference for some of my FF’s who simply would not make excellent career FF’s. These are FF’s who always seem to disappear when work needs to be done, have trouble making the minimum attendance requirements, are always busy when needed for events and extra duties and are often heard complaining on the far side of the pumper.

Yet when they stroll through my office door looking for a reference, they are usually sporting all their department issued clothing and are high-fiving everyone they see on the way in cause this is the best department ever!!!!!

The look on their faces is usually the same (you know that look when you just watched a puppy get run over by a cement truck) when I lean back in my chair and ask for their version of the reference I should give someone else about them.

After a blank look and what feels like an eternity of awkwardness, I will typically break the silence with my concerns about their performance. It should come as no surprise as all our FF’s have semi-annual performance reviews.

It is a wakeup call to some but a few are still oblivious. While some of you may think that this is unfair or mean let me tell you where my head is. What if that person makes it to the final stage of the hiring process and I get a reference call?

To stretch a reference and say that FF “X” is the one you want, someone who respects the chain of command, is always busy, respects tradition, strives to do better, pushes themselves to succeed and would make a model FF for your department can have lasting effects if it’s not true.

What if that FF is lazy, has a sense of entitlement, doesn’t respect tradition, can’t take direction and only cares about stuff they want to do? Imagine you were one of my top performers and I was called by the same department to supply a reference for you?

Do you think you will get a second look? Not a chance, my reference now means nothing and my credibility is shot. If I choose not to supply that individual with a reference who did it really effect? The person who didn’t deserve to get hired or someone who should get hired but never got a chance because the last FF I said was great, was horrible?


I’m sure at some point in your life you have heard the saying, “it takes an entire career to make a good reputation and one incident to make a bad one.”

I have seen this hold true many times over my career. If you are expecting a great reference, you better have a great reputation. Regardless of the job you have, your reputation starts to build long before you realize it.

If you come in for your interview dressed like a slob, are perpetually late or constantly disagree with policy, it follows you. As a top performing employee, you are likely revered for your attention to detail, positive attitude, strong work ethic and willingness to help others. Cheat in a promotional process, steal or become a brown nose and that my friend is how you will be known after 7 years of terrific work.

Although most will likely forget about it and people will come and go, there is always one of two who will never forget and won’t let others forget it either. There is a good possibility it may be part of the “unofficial orientation" process too.

"Welcome to the office Larry, coffee break is at 10:15, lunch is at noon and that guy over there stole $20 from the coffee fund once, they should have fired him!!”


For the amount of time most people experience the “small world” meetings, I am often amazed how quickly they forget it happens. Quite often I get reference calls from people I know, it’s actually quite surprising really.

With that in mind, don’t ever forget “it’s a small world”, take pride in what you do, put the company’s goals ahead of your own and push yourself to succeed. You do that every day and I guarantee you there will be no problem being able to come up with the reference you feel should be delivered to you.

This article was written by Roree Payment. Roree is a Deputy Chief for Clearview Fire and Emergency Services with over 16 years of experience.

  • Steve
  • Updated April 19, 2024