Becoming a Firefighter: Psychological Tests for Firefighters

By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Jun 26, 2011

The work of first responders is difficult, to say the least. Emotions run high during fire and emergency incidents. Psychological tests are administered and interpreted by psychologists as part of the overall recruitment process to help the fire service determine whether candidates are mentally prepared to cope with the stressful nature of the job.

Psychological tests assess and evaluate information that you provide to the examiner. Generally the information is gathsered through a series of written true or false questions, answers to questions read off a computer screen, and answers to interview questions. The accuracy of the test depends mainly on how pragmatically you answer the questions. Reviewing prior civil service standard professional psychological tests is difficult to do because the security of the tests must be maintained for ethical reasons. It is not so important that you know what questions you are going to be asked as it is to know what the examiner is trying to assess. This chapter provides you with a general understanding of what psychological tests are all about.

Civil service psychological tests can be broken down into three parts: occupational, personality, and polygraph. The following provides a short synopsis of these three major components of the test.


In general, an occupational test seeks to match the interests, knowledge, abilities, and other characteristics of the candidate with those of firefighters already on the job. The theory behind this part of the test is that if you demonstrate attributes similar to most firefighters, then there is a good chance that you will acclimate readily to your new profession and fit in easily with fellow workers.

It takes a particular kind of person to want to perform rescue-related tasks. First responders and persons who gravitate to rescue-related work have been deemed by some psychologists to have a "rescue personality." It is a hypothesis that suggests that individuals who choose to become firefighters and first responders have similar characteristics and a predisposition to be rescuers before entering the job. Psychologists have identified the following characteristics and traits as being typical of individuals with a rescue personality:

  • action oriented
  • easily bored
  • enjoys being needed
  • highly dedicated
  • inner directed
  • likes control (of situations and themselves)
  • obsessed with high standards of performance
  • socially conservative
  • traditional


A personality test attempts to measure the candidate's persona or appearance he/she presents to the world. The two most commonly used personality tests given during the firefighter recruitment process are the revised Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI-2) and the Rorschach (inkblot) test.

The MMPI-2

The original MMPI-1 test was developed at the University of Minnesota Hospitals and first published in 1942. The MMPI-2, a revised version, was released in 1989. It is the standard used today.

The MMPI-2 test consists of more than 500 questions and takes approximately 60 to 90 minutes to complete. It is used to assess the mental status of candidates and possible abnormality in some of the following areas:

  • Hypochondriasis, or abnormal concern over the body's well-being
  • Paranoia, or persecution complex, characterized by rigid opinions and attitudes
  • Schizophrenia, characterized by bizarre thought processes and social alienation
  • Hysteria, or overreaction to stressful situations
  • Depression, or dissatisfaction with one's own life
  • Hypomania, or accelerated mood, speech, and motor activity
  • Psychopathic deviance, or nonacceptance of authority and amorality

A psychologist interprets the information gathered from the test in conjunction with other historical data (previous employment, academic performance, letters of recommendation, etc.) and constructs a psychological profile of the candidate. The MMPI-2 is also used as a screening device to eliminate candidates with obvious mental health problems.

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