We are on part four of our series on effectively recruiting firefighters into your organizations. We talked about the need to look inside your fire department to ensure you are prepared to receive new members in part one. Would your organization be seen as a club or a professional organization? Clubs tend to have fewer expectations and may be less inclusive. A professional organization seeks new things and is open to the inclusiveness that pushes them to make needed changes. We talked about new ways to attract people to your organization in part two using modern marketing platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. The days of placing a sign in the front yard and expecting a pile of applications are long gone. Most people cannot even imagine becoming a firefighter. The firefighter is on the top shelf of society, so the public thinks it is outside their scope of capabilities. Today, you must highlight your fire department and let the community see the team's faces using multiple platforms. Let them see their neighbors and how they make the fire department fit into their own lives. People need to know the fire service as a community investment that allows residents to serve and gain the training they currently do not have. And finally, part three talked about the hiring process and our need to develop a "plan" for those wanting to join our team. Your department should have a strategy for hiring. If someone applies for the position and is hired into a cluster, they will walk away. And I don't blame them. They see our firefighters doing amazing things outside, so we don't want them to come inside and experience a reality TV show. Be prepared! People expect it.
I am sharing this information from my research and analytics managing nearly three million dollars in recruitment grants focused on a county and statewide recruitment campaign. I have assisted in hiring hundreds of firefighters and interviewed them on their experiences throughout the process. Of all the comments I have received, there appears to be nothing more critical to the new hire than training and mentorship, followed by what expectation you have of them. The firefighter's role is a dangerous job that comes with risks, and they feel proper training can reduce the threat of being hurt on the job. Part four of this series talks about training new firefighters and what you can do to ensure they comprehend the concepts and skills you expect them to learn. We base our firefighter training on the NFPA 1001 series of lessons, objectives, and abilities. However, there is much more for new hires to learn before attending formal training. Set up your new hire for success by providing them as much information as you can. The following is a list of a few frequent questions I have received from new hires.
1. When do I start?
2. What do I wear?
3. When should I come to the fire station?
4. How do I get inside the fire station?
5. What do I do when I come to the fire station?
6. To whom do I report?
7. How do I answer the phone? What do I say?
8. What if no one else shows up for the call?
9. What if two new hires are the only ones here?
10. What truck do I take? Wait, can I drive?
11. How do I talk on the radio? What do I say?
12. Radio Channel? What does that mean?
13. How do I document that I was here?
14. Where do I get a set of gloves?
15. Can I bring my kids to the station during a call?
16. When is training? Can I do it online?
17. What is the relief association?
Training starts on day one. Take your new hires through the fire stations to answer their questions. Better yet, write down all the questions you can think of and present them to them. As they say, no question is a dumb question. When you are ready to prepare them for their formal NFPA 1001 training, be sure to review the training schedule and answer any questions they may have. Explain the importance of attending each session and what to do if they miss a class. These are the elementary lessons of our trade, and it is essential to help the candidate understand the concept of the lessons and apply them to your equipment and department. If there is anything I have learned over the years, we are all different in one way or another. No two departments are alike, and the equipment used at the fire academy or the fire instructor's department may not be the same as yours. Applying the lessons they learn to your operations would be best for the fire candidate to get the most out of their initial training.
I am hearing more and more discussion about time. TIME itself has become the new money, and people value sharing it with family and friends or simply relaxing on their own. Although this may seem strange to those who have left our jobs with thirteen weeks of vacation on the books, it makes sense. We frequently see how short life can be. Why spend it all at work? If the generations coming into the fire stations ask leaders to help them manage their time, we should. If not, they will go away. One of the best ways to reduce time spent on training is to move some of it online. In 2020, corporate America moved its operations online, requiring a massive technology upgrade to ensure we could all communicate and learn. Even though there are fewer pandemic restrictions, many employees want to stay home rather than travel to the office. This transition is an opportunity for the fire service. Building areas for people to work at the fire station could mean you have people staffing your station during the daytime hours. Allowing them to train online reduces their time at the fire station, so they have time to report to emergencies. Most families are only willing to give up a certain amount of their valuable time. Do you want your firefighters at training, meetings, or on the fire ground? Several good fire service platforms for online learning can show you when your firefighters have logged in, for how long, and if they passed their quiz. When was the last time you tested your firefighter's skills and knowledge after training? Proficiency testing is another way to reduce the amount of training needed within your department. Look at your annual training calendar, and if you see a topic on it more than once, you may be wasting people's time. Train them once, evaluate their proficiency, and move on to advanced skills. If they can prove it, they are ready to level up.
If you research the generations coming into the fire stations, you will see that they value mentorship and want to learn from those who know what they are doing. This is where the value of our "experienced" firefighters helps us retain these candidates. Assign a mentor to each new hire to pick up the lessons of the professional firefighter. Share stories and lessons learned from previous incidents and answer questions. The more you can align your expectations to the earlier incidents, the better. Overall, recruits want training that helps them grow, adds value to the team, and keeps them safe. If you are on the outside, the fire service looks scary. Heart disease, suicide, depression, PTSD, cancer... are all working against us when recruiting. The average citizen sees nothing other than what they read or see in the media. We need to emphasize how we reduce those risks with quality training, leadership, and incident command decisions. Otherwise, our crews will be short, adding more risk to those left alone.
In part five, we will put it all together in our following discussion on the Five Stages for Effective Firefighter Recruitment, talking about retention. I will also give you some ideas to consider when developing a recruitment and retention program and share my opinions on where I see the fire service heading in 2022 and beyond.