The Right Way to Dress for the Firefighter Written Exam 

Taking the Guesswork out of Testing Attire 

If you have decided to pursue a job in the fire service, you will inevitably be faced with taking a written exam before you are hired as a firefighter.  Knowing how to dress to be successful can be tricky, so continue reading and get all the answers you need.  There is one reoccurring theme when it comes to dressing the right way for the firefighter exam. 

The right way to dress for a firefighter written exam is to dress in a manner that lets you maintain a high level of comfort.  The written exam can be several hours long and wearing clothes that will not distract your focus is essential.  Fire Departments tend to use the firefighter written exam as the first round of elimination for potential firefighters.  This means you are much better off ensuring your comfort and ability to focus on the exam rather than over-dressing in the hopes of making a great first impression on someone who may not even be there.  

You are much better off ensuring your comfort and ability to focus on the exam rather than over-dressing in the hopes of making a great first impression.  If your score is too low to advance you are finished.  It will not matter what the exam administrators thought of your appearance because you will not see them again.  Comfort is priority number one.   

The Right Way to Dress for the Firefighter Written Exam 

These exams are extremely competitive, and a single missed question can make or break your advancement.  Wearing tight dress shoes, an itchy suit coat, or a collar that will not stop bugging you are all examples of attire distractions that could jeopardize your written exam score.  There are other aspects of the way you dress for the firefighter written exam to take into consideration.

Know What the Test Administrators Expect of You 

There are times your invitation to take the written exam may include specific instructions on what to wear.  This rarely happens, but when it does, be sure you are aware of what is expected of your attire.  For example, some departments may require all test takers to wear a tie or “Sunday Best.”  On the other extreme, you may have departments, especially smaller ones, which may want you to dress in clothes that would allow you to move straight to the physical agility test.  This would mean wearing athletic clothes and tennis shoes that would allow you to be physically active.   

Regardless of whether you are in khakis or gym shorts, comfort needs to be the goal.  Every department you test with will be slightly different in how they work in the hiring process.  There are two things, however, that will remain constant.  First, the written test is almost always the first step in the process. And second, dressing for comfort when taking the written test is the right way to dress to ensure success. 

The Schedule of Events During Exam Day 

I touched on it a bit earlier, but you need to pay attention to the overall schedule of events on the day you take your written exam.  This will determine what kind of comfortable clothes you wear.  A generic hiring process for a firefighter by most fire departments include a written exam, a physical agility test, a psychological exam, an oral interview, and a polygraph test.   

The Right Way to Dress for the Firefighter Written Exam 

The written exam is going to be the first part of the process.  Large fire departments that are hiring dozens of firefighters may have a thousand or more people show up to take the written exam.  In cases like this, you will more than likely participate in only the written exam on day one.  If your score does not place you high enough to move on, your testing is over.  Therefore, it is important to be comfortable to give you every advantage to advance.  For these big tests, you are simply a number in the process.  There is no need to stand out or make a statement.  You want to be presentable and professional, but a pair of nice jeans or khakis with a pullover or polo shirt will suffice.   

Now, for smaller testing opportunities where there may only be dozens or a few hundred taking the written test, your schedule may change.  They may want to combine several of the previously mentioned steps all in the same day.  For example, the highest-scoring 25 candidates may move on to the physical agility test, and those completing that may be asked to sit for an oral interview right away.  This is another instance that rarely happens, but it does occur in smaller towns and rural areas quite often.  In this case, the interview panel knows you are dressed for the physical agility test, but your selection of comfortable clothes should include solid colors free of designs or art that might distract your interviewers. 

What about the CPAT Orientation dress code? Learn more here:

Comfort is King 

We have established the fact that dressing for comfort is the right way to dress for the firefighter exam.  There is a little bit of leeway regardless of what the dress code may be for the written test.  For example, if it is business casual, opt for khakis instead of slacks.  Wear a long-sleeved shirt that is loose enough to roll the sleeves up.  Your shoes should be comfortable loafers instead of a dress shoe that may be uncomfortable after a few hours of being worn.  

Another trick is to roll a tie in your pocket and bring it with you.  While you standing around waiting for the test to start, if you should feel under-dressed, simply put the tie on.  Or you can wear the tie to the exam and take it off if you feel overdressed.   

The Right Way to Dress for the Firefighter Written Exam 

Keep in mind the testing location as well when you dress for taking the firefighter exam.  If you are testing in Houston, Texas in July at a local high school gym, you can expect to get hot quickly.  Skip the undershirt and wear something lightweight.  If you sweat a lot, make sure to have a small cloth or handkerchief in case you need it.  Likewise, if you are testing in Chicago, Illinois in January, you will want to wear extra layers you can remove to ensure you stay warm but do not get too hot. 

For the Ladies 

While the fire service is predominantly composed of men, that is slowly changing with time.  Women need to be prepared for the exam as well.  The advice for women is the same, be sure you are comfortable.  Wear clothes and shoes that are comfortable and conservative in nature.  Skirts are perfectly fine and make sure you are aware of the day’s schedule when you make your wardrobe choices. 


Related Questions

What about my grooming? 

That is a great question.  Grooming is especially important in the fire service.  As you know based on your interest in firefighting, the fire service is very much a paramilitary organization.  They like their firefighters to be well kept with short hair and no beards.  Mustaches are okay but should be trimmed and neatly groomed.  Besides the desired professional look, some equipment, such as the Self Contained Breathing Apparatus facepiece, requires a firefighter not to have a beard to seal and function properly. 


Are tattoos and piercings permitted? 

Tattoos and piercings are more acceptable in society now more than ever.  Many departments now allow tattoos to be exposed if they are not of an offensive nature.  You can probably find out the policy of the department you are testing for with just a little research.  If in doubt, cover your tattoos for the exam.  

 Piercings are still taboo for the fire service on male firefighters.  Piercings should be removed or covered for the men, and make-up can be worn but should be light and natural-looking for the women. 


How important is my score on the exam? 

Most fire departments begin the hiring process based purely on score and ability.  If you make it through the preliminary process, then you will get a chance to wow and impress during the oral interview, In the meantime, score means everything!  Your advancement is based purely on your score.  If they are hiring ten firefighters, they may take the highest 25 to advance.   

They take extra candidates with the expectation many will be eliminated on the way.  If you score high enough on the exam and can pass the physical agility test, then the hiring process becomes subjective and it is up to you to make your case to get hired. 


Any other tips for the exam day? 

There are a couple of odds and ends to keep in mind while preparing to take the firefighter written exam.  Do not wear uniforms or t-shirts from other departments to the exam.  Some exam takers may already be a firefighter somewhere else.  It is tacky to wear other fire departments’ clothing-even a volunteer department-during the written exam.  Get there early and plan for three hours.   

Most testing locations have an extremely strict start time and zero tolerance for late arrivals.  So, if you are unsure where you are going, leave considerably early or scout the route the day before.   

And finally, do not stress over the exam process.  You do not have to be the first finished or at the front of the line when the test is handed out.  Take your time, relax, and ace the written exam. 


Related Articles

Why Do Civil Servants Pay Tax?

To learn how to best prepare and study for your firefighter exam click here.

For more information about the civil service be sure to check out our free guide here: 

Please note: This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult a legal expert to address your specific needs.