Analyzing the ‘CPS Preference’ Policy

CPS Grads to Get Leg Up in Fire Department Exam

The city is preparing to take applications for firefighters for the first time in almost a decade, but there's public outcry against Mayor Rahm Emanuel's "CPS preference" policy. Some residents and firefighters say the policy discriminates against graduates of Catholic and other private schools. Our panel weighs in on the debate.


Sept. 16 marks the last day prospective firefighters can apply to take the Chicago Fire Department’s recruitment test. This year is expected to yield a high volume of applicants considering the age requirement has been lowered to 18 years old before the end of the year. This change means prospective firefighters could test in the same room as a 17-year-old high school senior, as long as he/she turns 18 before June 1 and graduates June 2015. The department lowered the requirement considering the gaps in time between tests. The last test was conducted back in 2005.

“Lowering the age gives people an edge without burning themselves waiting to retest,” said Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford.

With the new pool of incoming younger applicants, prospects can expect to be one of up to 20,000 to 30,000 candidates. Every completed application earns an examination date on one of two days in December.

Despite the high volume of candidates this year, the recruitment test still yields a large number of passing applicants. According to the Chicago Fire Department, they expect to receive up to 15,000 to 16,000 qualified applications this year.

“80 percent applicants pass the test because it’s a pass [or] fail system,” Langford said.

Another reason for the success rate is the content of the exam. The test serves only as an indicator for whether an applicant is trainable. The test does not ask any questions pertaining to the industry, but rather a profile of the candidate as a person. Therefore, the department does not release sample or practice tests for exam.

“We’re looking for people we can train, so the basic characteristics a firefighter would need,” Langford said. “So if you have a fear of heights, you might not want to apply.”

Considering the pool of qualified applicants to choose from, the next step in the recruitment process is luck. Each candidate will receive a lottery number and be chosen at random to join the academy. The names will be drawn as needed for each class in the academy until the list either becomes too old or runs out of candidates. The list will continue to host the candidate pool until the next testing period. Once a new test arises, previous applicants would have to reapply and retest. Although it’s been about 10 years since the last test, the department revised its hiring plan to retest sooner moving forward.

“Our new plan calls for a new entrance exam every 8 years maximum,” Langford said.

The actual academy runs for six months. The program will spend three months training recruits to become a certified EMT and the last three months in fire suppression. Before selected, candidates must have a CPAT card, be a resident the time of the offer, and pass a background and drug test.

The online application can be found here.