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Five Stages of Effective Firefighter Recruitment - Part 1

The recruitment of firefighters today requires a strategy. No longer can we wait for people to apply and hope they are the perfect fit for our organization. If you are waiting for applications, you are already behind, and another day of “en route with one” will continue. It is risky! Implementing a strategic recruitment plan will pay dividends when it comes to ensuring your lockers are full. This series will discuss five stages you can use to better your recruitment success.

PLAN /plan /

1. an intention or decision about what one is going to do.

2. decide on and arrange in advance

The choice to provide a fire department to your community is solely in the hands of your elected officials. No law requires a fire department to exist in Minnesota, we are a service-oriented agency. If you had an opportunity to start a new fire department in your community, how would you know the number of stations to build, the equipment you need to purchase, or the number of firefighters to hire? Many focus on the number of calls you anticipate responding to, but that measure is outdated. To determine these needs, you must conduct a community risk assessment and use data to drive your decisions. Once you evaluate your community risks, you can select the resources you will need to mitigate the incidents. The community owns every incident within it, and they cannot give them away.

You can build a staffing model to support quick and effective responses now that you know your community risks. If you cannot meet national standards (most cannot), create your own way to measure your outcomes. Based on the number of tasks expected of the crew on your apparatus, you can regularly determine the number of firefighters you need. Can you do those tasks with only one person? No. I hear departments responding to significant incidents with exceedingly small crew sizes and try to imagine what they will do when they arrive. If you are in that position, do not continue to normalize it, you need a strategy to build a staffing model that wins. The first part of the strategy is to look within your own department.

STAGE 1 – Cultivate a Culture of Inclusiveness

The first stage of an effective firefighter recruitment program starts within your fire station(s) walls. Our fire stations have various beliefs, leadership styles, biases, and views. Regardless of your age, you will always belong to the generation you were born into, and your experiences during that timeframe shaped your perspective on life. We are witnessing how generational beliefs differ across the globe and our need to become more open-minded and understanding. We will not attract new firefighters into our stations if they feel they do not fit into our culture. If new hires leave right away, that may signify something wrong. Do not look past it.

The Millennial generation (also known as Y) was born between 1982 and 2000. The applicants within this group are 21 to 39 years old, and our target demographic for recruiting into the fire service. They are the fastest-growing workforce segment and will surpass the Baby Boomer population. This group values family and loves to be part of a group that values service. They are collaborative and want feedback on their work. They thrive on meeting goals and making a difference in this world when it comes to achievement. A 2017 CNBC poll showed millennials prioritize ‘experiences’ over stuff. And if you need someone to work on your technology, this is your group. They were youth when the technology boom soared, with many of them unfamiliar with your flip phone or policy “manual.” Many did not attend the social studies class you had and may not even know how to write cursive. Asking them to draft a paper report may be a challenge and get them frustrated at your lack of technological advancement. The next generation, Z, only knows technology. Unlike the millennials who had to transition into the world of tech, the upcoming candidates did their schoolwork on an iPad. Are you ready for them?

So how do you build a culture of inclusiveness with multiple generations? First, understand your workforce has changed. For years, I worked in the fire station with people who were my age. We came from the same generation and neighborhoods. Today that is much different. At one time, I had four generations inside the fire station, from 19 to 72 years old. The older generation appreciated a written memo to hold onto and pinned it to a corkboard. The younger generation wanted the communication sent to them through Instagram to post it to their “feed.” Finding a middle ground can be challenging but requires consistent attention to ensure we work effectively amongst all generations and genders.

Each generation may also require a different leadership style. Baby Boomers prefer face-to-face meetings and want organized leadership. They do not appreciate leaders who “let it be” and allow the department to control the administration. Millennials look for mentors. They want to learn from those who have been on the job so it can enhance their skills. This generation is team-driven and not used to people yelling at them to get work done. If they do not know the expectations, do not expect them to accomplish the task in ways YOU think it should be.

On the topic of gender, we are seeing more females interested in our purpose. The fire service complains about recruitment issues but has not focused on a marketing campaign targeting females. You can do this by adding females into your marketing ads and posts. Ensure your vendors offer equipment that will fit them appropriately to feel comfortable at work. More importantly, ensure you have an environment free from harassment, bad jokes, and bullying. Respectful workplace policies should be in place and enforced to protect everyone in the fire station from unwanted harassment and threats. Bad people make good people leave!

Overall, inclusiveness means all are welcome. We need to reframe the stereotypes formed of the fire service and make it known that we accept a wide range of individuals who want to serve. It may take time, but it will lead to a better candidate pool and a more engaged workforce. If you need to clean your house, take steps now. You can hit the RESET button at any time without judgment and for the betterment of maintaining an effective public service.

Part two of this series will focus on attracting candidates to your department and current resources you can use to get ahead. There are people who want to serve alongside you, but they are having a tough time finding you and getting the information they need to decide.


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