Including Women in the Fire Service

A Strategy Toolkit for Fire Departments

Section 4


If you haven’t got the best talent you’re not going to be the best. If you’re not representing properly the available pool of talent then you’re missing an opportunity. —Alex Wilmot-Sitwell



Hiring is the selection of job candidates from a previously generated pool in a way that meets your fire service’s goals and objectives as well as current legal requirements.


The myth that underrepresented group members are given preferential treatment during hiring processes needs to be debunked. Some of these myths stem from failed attempts during the 1990s at establishing equal opportunity legislation with hiring quotas or the development of written test cut off scores based on gender. While many of these initiatives never came to fruition, the mythology of their legacy continues to this day. It is common for people to believe that fire services make physical testing easier for women, or that women have an easier time getting hired. The reality is it can be quite the opposite.

While fire services strive to diversify their members, there are hidden hurdles that can stand in the way of equitable hiring.

Fire services should analyze their hiring processes to safeguard against an adverse impact when looking at previous employment, volunteer experiences, pre-employment physical or psychological testing, and educational requirements. Fire management in conjunction with human resource professionals should conduct a robust job analysis to ensure testing and assessment methods are legally defensible.

As an example, many fire departments have traditionally awarded additional points to those who have military service, trades papers, played professional sports, or have previous experience in volunteer firefighting. While skills gained in these areas are not without merit, they may not always be necessary or predictors of future performance in a firefighting context. Due to the small number of women in the military, trades, professional sports organizations, and volunteer fire services, fire departments may unwittingly create standards that support unintentional discrimination.

2Best Practices

To assist in neutralizing bias, it is crucial that human resource best practices are used to avoid systemic bias and gender stereotyping throughout the hiring process. Every stage of the hiring process requires its own best practices to be established.

The following steps are involved with selecting the right candidate. The steps are discussed below, with a hiring checklist in the Appendix, and more examples in the Modules below.

1. Conduct a comprehensive and objective Job Analysis to determine measurable knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs).

2. Using the Job Analysis, create valid, reliable, and defensible Job Descriptions as a fair and accurate representation of what the position entails, ensuring they reflect the KASOs required for positions within your fire department (e.g., Firefighter First Class, Deputy Fire Chief).

3. Develop and implement an Applicant Screening method to identify and eliminate candidates who do NOT meet the minimum qualifications (MQs)

4. Select appropriate Applicant Testing ensuring they are legally defensibly assessments and standardized to meet professional standards concerning their psychometric properties and predictive validities.

5. Create and implement a plan for Interviewing Candidates post screening that follows an interview guide.

6. Apply a selection method that will assist with the final hiring of the best candidate.

Job Analysis – Updating / Creating Job Descriptions

Job Analysis is a systematic process of collecting, documenting, and analysing information about the work required for someone to do their job. It includes a description of the context and main duties of a job, as well as the responsibilities, working conditions and the information, knowledge, skills, abilities, and other attributes (KSAOs) required for the job. In summary, the job analysis is a method of providing a description of the job while profiling the characteristics or competencies candidates need to be successful in their job.

Work with Human Resources to assist with conducting Job Analysis for the purpose of updating existing and creating new job descriptions. It is important to contact Human Resources as they will work with the appropriate subject matter experts (SMEs) for the collection and analysis of information. To ensure defensibility of the job analysis results, SMEs should be representative of the target population for the job (e.g., with respect to age, sex, ethnic background, and seniority of position). Information gathered from a diverse group of SMEs will produce an accurate, reliable, and valid job description. Failure has the possibility of being challenged in court, similarly to the Meiorin case (refer to Module 4.2 below) which lacked information from female firefighters. The result of the Meiorin case provided a test to ensure discrimination does not exist against members of protected groups.

Despite the multiple methods (or options) of conducting a job analysis, an accurate analysis ensures precise information on skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions. It provides objective evidence of the skills and abilities required for someone to effectively perform on their job, while providing evidence of the relevance of the hiring procedures measuring those abilities. Consult your organization’s Human Resources for the best job analysis method to create the most accurate job description.

Review the template for undertaking a job analysis and also a sample first class firefighter job description.

Applicant Screening

Screening is the first phase of the hiring process, the “rough cut” of the larger applicant pool. The goal is to identify and eliminate candidates who do NOT meet the minimum qualifications (MQs) established for the position (as listed within the job description). Should a candidate NOT meet the MQs, no further consideration is given. It is imperative to have a reliable, accurate and valid job description since MQs critically affect the entire hiring process and are often closely scrutinized for adverse impact against designated groups. Be sure MQs are developed and validated to withstand any legal challenge.

There are different screening methods including application forms, weighted application blanks, biographical data, resumes, reference checks, social media, virtual career fairs, and virtual job auditions. When applying any screening or selection method, you cannot ask for information that is prohibited on discriminatory grounds under human rights legislation unless it can be established that the information is a bona fide occupational requirement (BFOR - see Module 4.2 below). Work with your organization’s Human Resources to assess the best method for screening based on required roles to fill, as you want it to be cost effective and legally defensible.

Applicant Testing

Employment testing is a major function in the hiring process to find the best candidate. Should a possible candidate move through the initial screening process successfully, hiring will depend on the most qualified candidate through testing and final employment interview. The best and most legally defensibly assessments are standardized and meet professional standards concerning their psychometric properties and predictive validities. For the fire service, most hiring situations have a larger applicant pool than positions to be filled. The goal is to select candidates who best possess the KSAOs that you want for your organization. To demonstrate their value, the KSAOs must be shown to predict important work-related criteria (e.g., job performance).

Like screening, there are many different types of tests to choose from including: Ability and Aptitude Tests, Emotional Intelligence Tests, Psychomotor Ability Tests, Physical Fitness and Medical Examinations, Work Samples and Simulation Tests, and Drug and Alcohol Tests to name a few. Again, each test type has best practices associated with it, as well as pitfalls. Working with your Human Resources Department will help to identify the best test to be applied to assess candidates’ KSAOs as identified in a job description.

Interviewing Candidates

Interviews are a relatively expensive selection tool; therefore, pre-screening strategies are important. Apart from screening interviews, interviews are typically conducted near the end of the hiring process. In the case of screening interviews, the interview is often used to confirm or explore information provided in resumes or application forms. However, when an interview is used later in the process (post screening), the interview is used to obtain information that has not been provided in the resume or application form.

Interviews are best suited to the assessment of noncognitive attributes such as interpersonal relationships or social skills, initiative, dependability, perseverance, teamwork, leadership skills, adaptability or flexibility, organizational citizenship behaviour, and organizational fit. Interviews are also used to sell the job to the applicant. During the hiring process, interviews are commonly used to determine who is best qualified for a job, and they are a tool used when several employees are being considered for an internal position.

Screening Interviews

Screening interviews typically consist of a series of freewheeling, unstructured questions designed to fill gaps left on the candidate’s application form or resume. These are more of a conversation and often revolve around a set of common questions like: “What is your greatest accomplishment?” These questions cover the applicant’s personal history, attitudes and expectations, and skills and abilities. However, information obtained through a screening interview is better collected through a well-constructed application form.

The Appendix contains this example of a Post-Interview Summary.

Precautions on Using Screening Interviews
Using the interview as a screening device brings with it the potential for introducing discriminatory practices into the hiring process. Keep the interview structured. Opening with chitchat may cause interviewers to delve into asking personal questions, unfortunately leading into questions about marital status, child-care arrangements, birthplace, or birth dates for example. Information of this type is clearly prohibited and can lead to discriminatory hiring practices. Best practice is to avoid a screening interview and make use of blank forms.

Unstructured Interviews

The traditional approach to employment interviewing is one that has become known as an unstructured interview. In such interviews, the interviewer typically engages in an open-ended conversation with the interviewee. There are standard questions used in this interview process, and interviewees have learned how to respond to such questions. There is also the concern of impression management, whereby interviewees create a favourable impression of themselves by picking up cues from the interviewer concerning what answers the interviewer wishes to hear. This may result in NOT hiring the best candidate, the interviewer is more likely to hire the most skillful interviewee.

Structured Interviews

Structured interviews consist of a standardized set of job-related questions whereby a scoring guide is used. The structured interviews contribute to interview reliability and validity. A summary of components that contribute to employment interview structure include the following:
-Interview questions are derived from a job analysis (they are job related).
-Interview questions are standardized (all applicants are asked the same questions).
-Prompting, follow-up questioning, probing, and/or elaboration on questions are limited.
-Interview questions focus on behaviours or work samples rather than opinions or self-evaluations.
-Interviewer access to ancillary information (e.g., resumes, letters of reference, test scores, transcripts) is controlled.
-Questions from the candidate are not allowed until the end of the interview.

Each answer is rated during the interview using a rating scale tailored to the question (this is preferable to rating dimensions at the end of the interview and certainly preferable to making an overall rating or ranking at the end).

Rating scales are “anchored” with behavioural examples to illustrate scale points (e.g., examples of a “1,” “3,” or “5” answer).

Total interview score is obtained by summing across scores for each of the questions.

Detailed notes are taken during the interview (such notes should be a record of applicants’ actual words and behaviours as related in the interview rather than evaluations and applicants).

Source: Burnett, J.R., C. Fan, S.J. Motowidlo, and T. DeGroot. 1998. “Interview Notes and Validity.” Personnel Psychology 51: 375-96.

Panel and Serial Interviews
Panel and serial interviews are a form of structured interviews. Panel interviews are interviews conducted by two or more interviewers together at the same time. A Serial interview also known as a sequential interview, are interviews conducted by two or more interviewers separately or in a sequence. Despite scheduling challenges, panel and serial interviews can reduce the impact of biases held by an individual interviewer because interviewers are accountable to each other and provide a check on each other ensuring irrelevant information does not enter the decision process. Panel interviews are more reliable than individual interviews, having greater validity again over the unstructured interviews.

Structured Employment Interview Techniques
To ensure a valid and reliable structured interview consider working with your Human Resources department and include any of the structured interview techniques noted below.

Situational Interview (SI): interviewer describes to the applicant important or decisive situations that are likely to be encountered on the job, asking the applicant what s/he would do in the situation. Questions are posed as dilemmas and require a behavioural rating scale.

Behavioural Interviews (BI): interviewer is asked to predict the interviewee’s behaviours in each job situation based on the interviewee’s descriptions of her behaviours in similar situations in the past. BIs use probes to help guide the structured interview for applicants to offer more detailed descriptions of situations or events until sufficient information is obtained.

Experience-based Interview (EBI): assess applicant qualifications such as work experience and education by asking questions about job knowledge or using work sample questions.

Scoring Structured Interviews
Interviewing best practice is for interviewers to score the answer as soon as possible. A scoring scheme should be developed and assigned to each question. The scores for each question are combined at the end of the interview to yield a total interview score. When interviews are standardized, applicants can be compared based on the same criteria and the interviewer obtains a better picture of the merits of each applicant relative to other applicants. Standardization is an important factor in increasing interview reliability and validity. Secondly, the standardized treatment of applicants is generally perceived as being fairer than non-standardized treatment. Standardization therefore provides the interviewer and organizations some measure of protection from discrimination suits. See the Appendix for sample structured interview questions and scoring.

Hiring a Candidate

The hiring process of a candidate will be seamless if an accurate, reliable, and valid job description is used during the recruitment phase, and an appropriate selection methodology is applied against the candidate. Work with Human Resources during the hiring process to apply an appropriate method. Most used include the Top-Down and Banding Selection methods introduced below.

Top-down Selection Method
The top-down selection method involves ranking applicants on the basis of their total scores and selecting from the top down until the desired number of candidates has been selected. This approach is based on the assumption that individuals scoring higher on the predictors will be better performers on the job than individuals scoring lower on the predictors.

One difficulty with using top-down selection is that it can have adverse impact against certain minority groups. For example, Black applicants tend to have slightly lower average scores than white applicants on certain tests (Catano et. al.2016). Selecting from this method may result in disproportionately hiring more white applicants over black. Therefore, race norming or within-group scoring has been suggested as an alternate method to prevent adverse impacts.

Race norming - the adjustment of scores, or the use of different cutoff scores for different minority groups - is prohibited under the American Civil Rights Act of 1991. However, there is no such legislation in Canada. This can create difficulties with implementing employment equity initiatives, as the City of Kitchener discovered some years back. To increase minority representation, the City of Kitchener Fire Department reduced the cutoff score for women (male applicants needed a score of 85 to pass, while women only required a cutoff score of 70) (Catano et. al., 2016). This caused public outcry, therefore the approach had to be abandoned. Applying this method is perceived as an example of reverse discrimination, discrimination against white male applicants.

Banding Selection Method
An alternative approach to accomplishing employment equity is banding. Banding involves grouping applicants based on ranges of scores. In fact, cutoff scores are a form of banding where there are two bands (i.e., those above the cutoff score are in one band while those below the cutoff are in another band). Banding typically refers to a grouping process that considers the concept of standard error of measurement. Bands can be constructed in one of two ways: fixed or sliding.

Making Hiring Decisions
Valid selection methods and procedures are necessary for making good hiring decisions. Hiring processes can make for a strong candidate decision including:
-Use valid selection instruments
-Dissuade managers from making hiring decisions based on a gut feeling or intuition.
-Encourage managers to keep track of their own “hits” and “misses.”
-Train managers to make systematic hiring decisions.
-Periodically evaluate or audit hiring decisions to identify areas needing improvement.


Step 1. Size-Up with SWOT Analysis

As discussed in Section 1: Introduction to Change, your fire service should take the time to evaluate its policies around hiring methodologies in consideration of your diversity and inclusion objectives and goals.

Undertake a SWOT Analysis to identify your fire service’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats relevant to existing policies. When considering external factors compare your policies and resources against those of the larger corporation (i.e., municipality). When considering hiring methodologies, use the SWOT analysis to identify appropriate path for the purpose of selecting viable candidates.

Ensure to work with Human Resources with identifying appropriate selection methodology: Think about what method is most appropriate for hiring ‘recruited / targeted’ candidates.

When undertaking the SWOT Analysis consider what is happening today, what is planned, and what needs to occur to ensure change is possible. With respect to strengths, be specific listing existing policies, procedures, committees, task forces, anything that can help support the SWOT Analysis. Similarly, with respect to opportunities be sure to list desired improvements while including barriers that stand in the way. Use the analysis to help identify selection methods that are aligned with your organization hiring policies for meeting target groups.

Step 2: Build a Plan with objectives

Based on the themes from the SWOT Analysis, begin to build your hiring plan while aligned with your organization’s vision, mission and values in consideration of existing diversity & inclusion policies. To begin, identify your organization’s objectives using the Smart Goal method.

Smart Goals
Using the SMART method, detail fire service goals related to the hiring themes identified during the SWOT analysis.

Example #1:
WHO – Foxtrot Fire Service
WHAT – Review / Update Job Descriptions
WHERE / WHEN – Foxtrot Hall #6 – December 31, 2021
STANDARD (MEASURABLE) – Review and update job descriptions including specifying knowledge, skills, abilities and other (KSAOs) requirements for candidates to achieve
Objective 1: Foxtrot Fire Hall #6 will conduct a series of Job Analysis to update job descriptions including specifying KSAOs for Firefighters, Acting Captains, Captains, Assistant Platoon Chiefs, and Platoon Chiefs by February 15, 2022.

Example #2
WHO – Foxtrot Fire Service
WHAT – Review / Update Job Hiring Process
WHERE / WHEN – Foxtrot Hall #5 – June 30, 2021
STANDARD (MEASURABLE) – Identify and test selection methodology, testing requirements, interview questions, and decision rationale based on recruits.
Objective 2: Foxtrot Fire Hall #5 will update selection methodology while working with Human Resources department to select appropriate physical, cognitive and emotional testing strategies; and identify appropriate weight decision models and performance indicators for the selection of recruits from a candidate pool.

Step 3: Implementing Your Plan

Based on your organization’s hiring objectives & goals begin to implement your plan. Recall this will include an outline of the program, budget details, responsibilities, and timing.

Using objective 2 from earlier, here are the steps of creating an implementation plan:


Update Selection Methodology / Criteria


Create a selection criterion for candidates based on KASOs (Job descriptions), applicant screen, testing, and Interview

Budget / Resources:

People, time. (approx. cost)

Procedures / Actions:

Conduct Job Analysis.

Identify KASOs.

Create / Update / Modify Job Descriptions.

Create Applicant Screening (e.g., blank applicant form).

Identify and create appropriate tests (e.g., Ability and Aptitude Tests, Emotional Intelligence Tests, Psychomotor Ability Tests, Physical Fitness and Medical Examinations, Work Samples and Simulation Tests, and Drug and Alcohol).

Create Interview Questions (e.g., Structured Interviews using Situation, behavioural and evidence-based questions).

Create a scoring criterion (e.g., banding selection method) to be used for screen, testing and interviews.

Review budgetary costs / plan with Leadership.

Create a detailed financial budget.

Create a detailed timeframe and expectations.


Leadership: Approval of budgets and Plans.

Human Resources: Support with job analysis and descriptions, applicant screening, application testing, interview questions and Decision Criterion.

SMEs: Support with Job Analysis.

Management: Development of Job Descriptions

Fire Chief: Approval of the Implementation Plan.


6-9 months

Step 4: Evaluating Plan Performance

Your fire service has created its hiring implementation plan. Now it is time to assess its performance. Continuing with the previous example (objective 2), the implementation performance can be assessed using a simplified scorecard method. Recall, when applying the scorecard you are assessing your organization against a baseline – before implementing your plan.

Performance Measurement

ObjectivesTraffic LightOutcomes
Create Job Descriptions based on Job AnalysisUsed previous year job descriptions without new analysis
Develop applicant screening methodsStill continuing with screening interviews.
Create applicant tests based on recruitment strategyUsed standard tests that have been used in previous recruitment campaigns.
Core ValuesTraffic Light123Comments
PeopleXHiring Strategy not aligned with Organization’s Diversity & Inclusion Policy as it is not adapted for hiring based on recruitment campaign to attract women and persons of marginalized groups
CultureXHiring Strategy not aligned with organization’s new Diversity & Inclusion Policy
DiversityXHiring Strategy is not considered or aligned with the Diversity & Inclusion Policy

1 - Exceeds Expectations
2 - Meets Expectations
3 - Fails Expectations

Overall: 3
Overall, the hiring strategy has not been updated, and is still working under old/existing policies and methods of hiring.

Step 5: Continuous Improvement

Thus far, we have walked through creating the hiring objectives & goals while building an implementation plan based on said goals. The plan is aligned with your fire service’s diversity & inclusion policies. A performance assessment was conducted against the implementation plan, and at this point, your fire service will understand what is working against what is not and be able to create a continuous improvement plan.

Following through with Hiring objective 2 and its implementation plan, create a plan adjustment.

Create Job Descriptions based on Job AnalysisCoordinate with HR and conduct Job Analysis to develop new job descriptions with updated KASOs
Develop applicant screening methodsDevelop blank applicant forms to screen for MQs.
Develop standardized applicant tests and interview questionsDevelop applicant tests appropriate with the recruitment plan; ensuring interview questions are standard, structured behavioural, situational, and evidence-based so scoring criterion can be applied.


  • Setting Job Requirements Ontario Human Rights Commission (2008)

    This document explains how employers can ensure that job requirements are reasonable and made in good faith, provides criteria for bona fide job requirements.

  • Guide to Screening and Selection in Employment Ontario Human Rights Commission - Employment (2007)

    This guide can help ensure that hiring processes within your organization do not discriminate against individuals.

  • Interviewing and Making Hiring Decisions Ontario Human Rights Commission (2008)

    This section describes the human rights issues that commonly arise in interviews, some of the types of questions that legally may or may not be asked, and how to make hiring decisions that do not contravene the Human Rights Code.

  • Recommendations for Improving the Recruiting and Hiring of Los Angeles Firefighters RAND Corporation, Haddison, Lim, Keller, et al. (2015)

    This report presents a three-month review of Los Angeles’s fire-fighter hiring policies and practices that was conducted, paying particular attention to effectiveness and fairness. It makes recommendations that are intended to increase efficiency, transparency, and inclusiveness.


Module 4.1: Hire Staff Equitably

Hiring Process:

  1. Conduct a comprehensive job analysis which determines measurable knowledge skills and abilities (KSA) of the firefighting role. Apply these KSAs to job descriptions which will then fairly represent the position of a firefighter.
  2. Update / Review / Create Job Descriptions detailing job duties, work conditions and desired knowledge, skills, abilities, and other attributes required to successfully do the job.
  3. Create a candidate screening process (e.g., blank forms, resumes, screening interviews) to eliminate potential applicants who do not meet the minimum qualifications. Screen candidates for job related KSAs and develop links between past employment and hobbies that accurately reflect the established KSAs. For example, adopt a blind methodology for screening resumes to reduce bias and in turn promote talent acquisition that is based upon hiring eligible and qualified candidates regardless some of their identifying features such as name, gender, or socioeconomic background.
  4. Select a scoring method for screening candidates.
  5. Proceed to the next stage of the selection process with testing candidates (see testing pitfalls below).

Apply a scoring method to those candidates who underwent testing. Be sure to develop cut-off scores according to what is considered an acceptable level of skill/time for the job of firefighting, taking into consideration Bona Fide Occupational Requirements (BFORs) and charter rights based on gender and age. For example, if the skill tested is the deployment of a handline, there must be evidence of this test’s validity to prove that this selection procedure is predictive and correlates with crucial elements of firefighting job performance, and that it is based on the job performance of a full range of current fire service membership and not limited to one age/gender demographic.

Review all physical and skills tests so they better reflect the requirements of the job. Use only scientifically validated and reliable assessment processes for pre-employment tests. Examine if current testing processes are still valid and reliable:

The validity of tests and selection procedures should be undertaken and graded under standardized conditions assuring for accuracy.

Avoid Testing Pitfalls:
Body composition measured during the hiring process can also present substantive barriers to women. One common example is when a fire department uses commonly administered, yet outdated testing methods based upon the physical norms of male bodies versus the actual physical requirements that are necessary for firefighting:

They told me I lost marks on body fat percentage. ... I’m pretty lean, so I asked them where did they get that standard from? Cause... if I was any thinner, I wouldn’t get my period anymore. So, I don’t know where these results come from... but the standards were not appropriate for women. Especially older women. (Leah, Insights Study, page 11)

I passed and everything was fine, but... one of the other tests they do is the hip to waist ratio, and they said... the only spot you could really improve on is your hip to waist ratio. I don’t know the science behind all of that, but I feel like it’s an absurd indicator of fitness. ... I don’t know what their standard was for women, if that even accounted for a female body. ... I know that I passed the test just fine, so I remember getting very frustrated, and just feeling that that was sort of strange. (Caroline, Insights Study, page 11)

Pre-hire physical fitness and endurance tests must not create situations where women are adversely impacted. While physical testing is becoming fairer and more closely related to the work of firefighting through ongoing research, there are still some barriers that women may face when completing these tests.

A successful mark of task completion may be based on the use of techniques used primarily by men. For example, forcible entry or ladder carries are considered successful when the candidate uses upper body strength (typically used by men) but considered unsuccessful when the candidate used lower body strength (used by women). The objective of the task is not how it is completed but if it has been completed in a safe and effective manner.

Additional barriers include ill-fitting gear is provided that does not fit a smaller adult, restricting mobility when completing a task. Gloves not designed for women’s hands can contain extra material at the fingertips due to palm –to-finger length ratio, or helmets that are not appropriately adjusted for depth obstructing vision, or mobility when it contacts a weight vest or SCBA cylinder. If equipment is required and provided during the testing process, fire departments and testing agencies must ensure a proper fit for every candidate.

Although firefighting clearly requires a certain amount of physical strength and endurance, fire departments must ensure that standards are legitimate and necessary for job performance. Testing must be appropriate, consistently administered, and scored fairly. Training programs and opportunities to practice physical tests must be provided to all candidates increasing the opportunity to meet the prescribed standards.

Interview process
Ensure standardized interview questions that follow the same framework when assessing and ranking candidates. Structured interviews not only reduce bias and discrimination, but they can also help fire departments avoid expensive and embarrassing human rights violations. Provide training to hiring panels to make them fully aware of how and why women may present to hiring panels differently than men. For example, develop unconscious bias training programs for hiring personnel. Include women firefighters on hiring panels so that panels are more alert to the skills and talents that women bring to the profession.

  1. Create a standard set of questions for all candidates that does not infringe on grounds that are protected (age, gender, race, religious beliefs, disability, creed, sexual orientation, family situation,) under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
  2. Use a panel consisting of peers, management, and human resources professionals that are duly trained in the consistent application of rating of candidates. Ensure all panel members understand their legal obligations to ask only those questions that comply with human rights regulations and does not discriminate in any way (e.g., questions relating to country/place of origin and citizenship status; religion; faith, or creed; age; gender or sexual orientation; race or ethnicity; family structure, children, or marital status; mental or physical health and disability; appearance, height, and weight; pardoned offences).
  3. Ensure all panel members understand how questions will be asked, rated, and how follow up questions can be made.
  4. Establish measurable standards to minimize bias in hiring so that Knowledge, Skills and Abilities are clearly defined and not left open to interpretation by panel members.
  5. Ensure interviews are structured to avoid open-ended conversations.
  6. Ensure consistency is maintained by the interview panel during all points of contact with candidates.

Note: It will always be a challenge to eliminate implicit bias from the hiring process, however, it is the duty of the fire service to work towards minimizing bias as much as possible.

Avoid Interview Pitfalls
There are many poor hiring practices still in use, for example:

  • Having candidates do ride-alongs with different fire crews to rate suitability of working in a team environment. Crews can have stereotypes and bias that human resources and management are unaware of, leading to unfair ratings of candidates.
  • Requiring candidates to perform tasks in front of current fire service personnel who are tasked with evaluating job performance, creates a potential point of bias if:
    • These personnel do not remain consistent through all points of contact
    • There is an absence of a well-defined rating scale for the task performed
    • There is a lack of understanding of the actual KSAs that need to be demonstrated

These points of contact with current fire service personnel can also lead to gathering personal information from the candidates that is deemed prohibited during interviews. The danger is that candidates can potentially be dismissed based on information that was acquired illegally.

A recruitment and hiring checklist template is available in the Appendix.

Module 4.2: How to assess a bona fide occupational requirement

A Bona Fide Occupational Requirement (BFOR) is a criterion that is necessary for the performance of a job. At face value, sometimes these requirements may seem discriminatory, but they are designed to allow employers to hire individuals with specific qualifications that are vital to business operations.

BFORs allow employers to discriminate if they can legitimately prove that the reason, they are refusing a candidate relates to this individual’s ability to do the job. To be clear, this does not enable employers to discriminate based on preference or convenience (e.g., hiring firefighters who are all the same size and shape because it is easier and cheaper to buy the same sets of bunker gear), but places the onus on the employer to prove that a requirement is bona fide and thus the employer must accommodate when possible.

Based on a Supreme Court of Canada decision, this Ontario Human Rights Commission document provides a legal framework to determine if a requirement is reasonable and is a BFOR. The organization must test and prove all three of the following criteria:

  1. That the employer adopted the standard for a purpose rationally connected to the performance of the job. The employer must be able to show through KSAs that the standard being used is related to the worker being able to perform essential job duties safely and efficiently. As an example, a firefighter must be able to perform physically demanding tasks which discriminated against persons with certain physical disabilities. Through KSAs it can be rationally proven to connect the job of firefighting to establishing an appropriate physical ability test, which is then a BFOR. You must ask:
  • What standard is being used to assess candidates?
  • What objective does introducing this standard achieve?
  • Does the standard connect to a candidate’s ability to perform the job in a safe and effective manner?
  1. That the employer adopted the standard in an honest and good faith belief that it was necessary to the fulfilment of that legitimate work-related purpose and not introduced with the intent to discriminate. You must ask:

  • Why is the rule or standard being adopted? Is it being adopted in good faith?
  • Is the standard reasonably necessary to meet a legitimate work-related purpose?
  • What alternative approaches exist, and have they been fully investigated?
  • Are there alternative approaches available that do not have a discriminatory effect? Might they better achieve the employer’s purpose?
  1. That the standard is necessary to the accomplishment of the legitimate work-related purpose. To show that the standard is necessary, it must be demonstrated that it is impossible to accommodate without imposing undue hardship upon the employer (for example, a smaller fire department may not be able to accommodate firefighters in the same manner as a larger one). You must ask:
  • Is the standard properly designed to make sure the desired qualification is met without placing undue burden on the people it applies to?
  • Does the standard incorporate the concept of accommodation?
  • Is accommodation being provided to the point of undue hardship?

Case Study: Wildland Firefighter Fitness Test found Discriminatory

Fire service leaders should familiarize themselves with the Tawney Meiorin case in British Columbia. This leading human rights case in which a female firefighter was terminated from her job due to unfair requirements resulted in the Supreme Court of Canada’s creation of the three-part criteria discussed above. The following is the case summary:

  • In 1999, a firefighting union local brought a grievance forward on behalf of Tawney Meiorin, a wildland firefighter. Meiorin had been employed for three years but was fired due to her inability to pass one of the four newly adopted fitness tests mandated by the Government of British Columbia. The test required the firefighter to complete a 2.5 km run in 11 minutes. Meiorin was less than a minute short of the cut-off time.
  • The arbitrator was able to determine that the aerobic standard set out by the Government of British Columbia was discriminatory based on sex - most men have higher aerobic capacity due to physiology and are more likely able to pass the standard. It was found that men on average could pass the test with practice, yet women on average could not pass the standard even with adequate training. The Supreme Court of Canada found that the aerobic requirements did not reflect performance standards necessary to perform workplace tasks safely and efficiently.

Although the Government of British Columbia fulfilled the first two criteria, it was unable to prove that the newly adopted standard was necessary for the safe and efficient performance of wildland fire operations. It was also unable to establish that undue hardship would result from changing the standard. As a result, Meiorin was reinstated to her position and compensated for lost wages and benefits. The Government was also unsuccessful in its claim that any accommodation given to Meiorin compromised the morale of the fire service.