The Hong Kong Fire Services Department has always adhered to the principle of hiring for the right mindset — an attribute as significant as academic qualifications and physical fitness.
"We are no heroes," emphasises Li Kin-yat, senior divisional officer, recruitment, training and examination group, Hong Kong Fire Services Department. "Our job revolves around our mission to protect life and property from fire or other calamities. When recruiting, stringent selection criteria are necessary because whatever we deal with is really a matter of life and death," Mr Li says.
However, this has never deterred aspiring applicants from expressing their interest. Last year, more than 1,400 applications flooded in and Mr Li expects a further increase in response when the vacancies for station officer open this year.
A typical station officer recruitment process takes about six months, starting with a physical fitness test and a job-related performance test. Rounds of interviews plus medical and background checks follow.
Since the role of a station officer entails a range of operational, administrative and management responsibilities, leadership and management qualities are identified early on during the interview process. "Candidates should realise that they will become supervisors of a fire station, leader of a team of firemen and ambassadors of the department," Mr Li explains. "Therefore, such qualities are indispensable."
Best in class
A station officer works a 24-hour shift starting at 9am, and has a two-day rest period between shifts. Apart from dealing with urgent situations, a typical day also comprises key duties such as arranging training and lectures for his team, conducting site inspections to risky areas and fire safety activities in the station areas. A stand-by period starts at 10:45 pm on a duty day but every on-duty staff member, including the station officers and the firemen must stay alert and respond swiftly to emergencies. As leader of a team, a station officer must follow through an entire mission even if it goes on beyond the 24-hour shift.
"You must prepare well and be able to come up with solutions as quickly as possible by immediately evaluating all favourable and unfavourable factors. In many cases, a clear head and experience are what it takes," Mr Li notes.
To ensure the competency of station officers, probationary station officers undergo three years of multi-stage training, including a 26-week initial training stage at the Fire Services Training School, as well as management training, interim examinations and performance appraisals and evaluations.
Aspiring station officers, who have the passion, dedication and sense of mission, as well as the necessary skills, are assured of a rewarding career ahead of them. As for Mr Li, it has been 24 years since he signed up with the department and his passion for the job only gets stronger.
His career aspirations became apparent when he was a young lad, Mr Li recalls. "My brother and some of my neighbours were in the service and I always wanted to become part of it," he notes.
Over the years, Mr Li has been posted in various functions, taking up more responsibilities in a number of operational, administrative and management roles, all of which he has found satisfying and rewarding.
"Even being involved in recruitment, training and human resources functions provided me with opportunities," he says, pointing out that his early experiences as part of an operations team helped him build competence, confidence and a solid foundation. "The diversity of this job enables me to put things into perspective," he notes. "The opportunities to see lives saved have definitely enriched mine."