In part one, we discussed the need to look inside your fire station to see how it looks from the perspective of someone who knows nothing about the fire service. Don't assume you portray a positive image. Instead, ask others to help you. In part two of this series, we discussed tools to attract people to your mission. The days of placing a sign out in the yard and expecting a line of applicants are long gone. Today, your recruitment efforts need to be strategic and coordinated. First, you have to identify the type of employee you are looking for and then start marketing for them. Today's leading marketing tool is social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. Most people have a handheld device in their hand when looking for information, entertainment, and opportunity. With paid ads, you can show people how to become a local firefighter instantly.
Once you have cleaned up your house and put a good marketing plan into place, it is time to start talking about the selection process. During this phase, you will consider what your best candidate would look like and how you will compare them against other candidates. For example, is your organization going to experience a significant change soon? If so, you will want to ensure your candidate can adapt to the forces of change, which includes maintaining a positive attitude. Do you need future leaders? Do you need staff who can advance in a technological world? Or do you simply need people who will have the time to come to calls during all hours? Once you have determined the character and skills you are looking for, it is time to build a process. If you have a Human Resources expert within your network, this would be an excellent time to get an opinion on implementing your hiring plan. It is important to note there are state and federal laws related to hiring and employing people. The process should be fair, without discrimination, and open to all. To ensure your plan meets all mandates, I encourage you to discuss the hiring plan with others.
One of the essential parts of the hiring process includes describing the employee's duties using a detailed job description. In addition, a job description allows candidates to see if their skills and education meet the minimum requirements to apply for the job. Once the job description is finalized, it is time to "post" the job opening. Those who want to apply for the position do so by completing an employment application. The information within the application helps you determine if the candidate meets the minimum requirements and tells a brief story about the candidate's work experience and education. At this point, the candidate's personal information is private, according to Minnesota Data Practice law, until they get hired. Refer to Minnesota State Statute, Chapter 13, for more details on data practice laws.
You will want to determine a timeline that opens up the hiring process. For example, some fire departments are "always hiring" and have interviewed candidates on the spot to ensure they do not lose interest. Although this is understandable in some cases, you will want to establish an opening and closing of your application process so you can manage your interview schedule. Once the application period is closed, it is now time to review the applications and resumes. At this time, I create a list of names, email addresses, and phone numbers of the candidates who meet the requirements. I also determine if there are any veterans within the pool. Then, I decide who can respond during the day and night and what skills they could bring to us if they were hired. One of the advantages of the volunteer/on-call system is the skills the community gains from our firefighter's full-time employment. Gather those you have selected to interview and notify those who did not make it through the initial selection process. You could send a letter, or email to them using an official email address representing your community. Keep the notification simple and to the point.
Testing and Selection
Now that you have your candidates selected, it is time to meet them and learn who they are and how they can add value to your mission. Remember, this is about finding people who will assist in moving the organization forward: today and tomorrow—the more work you do upfront, the less time you may have to deal with issues later. To prepare for the interview process, you will have to decide how many people will participate (the panel), who they will be, and what question you will ask each candidate. I encourage the interview panel to be limited to four. Walking into a room for an interview is scary enough. Prepare your interview questions and determine how long you will need to interview each candidate. Give yourself enough time to close out the discussion for each candidate. I have found it difficult to remember who the candidate is and what they said if I wait to score them at the end of the day. It is encouraged to have the interview questions reviewed by your Human Resource professional or City Attorney. The questions should only relate to the knowledge, skills, and abilities required for the firefighter position. Do not ask personal questions about the applicant's race, color, sex, marital status, criminal history, financial status, military status, citizenship, or age. Again, keep your questions focused on the duties of being a firefighter. Answers to some of the other questions will come out during tests within the process. Be sure to train those on the interview panel on how to conduct the interview. Stick to the questions, do not lead to others, and stay on time.
An interview day is a big event. Block out your calendar and remove any distractions. It is not polite to look at your phone or answer radio calls while your applicant tries to give you their best. It may also reflect negatively upon your organization. Set up your meeting room to have good eye contact with each other and provide the candidate with a pen, notepad, and water. Have one of your panel members be the greeter. Bring your candidate into the interview room and introduce the panelist. Explain the process and start with the questions. In the end, it is customary to ask the applicant if they have any questions for you. Explain the timeline and thank them for attending. Once all applicants have been interviewed, tally the final score, collect all the paperwork, and start the next phase. That could include a second interview process if you choose.
Outside of the formal interview process, fire departments frequently conduct other tests to ensure their applicants meet the position's requirements. For example, the physical ability test measures the applicant's ability to bend, kneel, squat, lift, pull, and drag, which are physical abilities a firefighter uses every day. It also measures their cardiorespiratory health. This test is typically given upfront before making an offer and can have a pass or fail score using time. There are various physical tests for you to consider; however, this is another area that others should review to ensure that the test is safe, fair, and achievable. Some agencies may be able to offer this test for you as well. Consult with your attorney to ensure they are comfortable with the tests you are requiring of the candidates to complete.
Making the offer
Once you have chosen your candidates for hire, it is now time to verify the information they put on their application and learn more information about them. Within your application, there should be a Tennessee advisory notifying the applicant of their rights related to their personal information and how you intend to use it. For example, you will use their name, date of birth, and address to conduct a criminal history check. In addition, you will use their information to contact their current and former employers to validate their work history and educational background. There are several tests you may consider before officially adding the applicant to your roster. State law requires you to conduct a criminal history check. The criminal history check will ensure your candidates have a valid driver's license and their contact with law enforcement is not in conflict with the role of a firefighter. Other tests include a medical screening (NFPA 1582), and psychological evaluation.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standard 1582 is widely known as the best practice for measuring the well-being of firefighters. If you're not already, work with your local medical clinic to see how you can implement this standard into your hiring process. It will require the doctor to conduct more tests when evaluating how your candidate will fit into the role of a firefighter. You will also want to consider if you will be conducting a drug and alcohol test. If this is your first time requiring these tests, get help to ensure you are implementing them correctly. The League of Minnesota Cities (www.lmc.org) is an excellent resource if you need assistance. And finally, many departments across the State require their candidates to go through a psychological evaluation. During these tests, the candidate takes written examinations to measure their personality, aptitude, intelligence, and more. They also meet one-on-one with a Doctor of Psychology who interviews them and rates their test score. In the end, you get a professional opinion on how well the doctor believes the candidate will fit into the role of a firefighter. From a Chief's perspective, the results are priceless. You will receive a detailed report on the candidate and an opinion of recommend, recommend with reservations, or do not recommend. The choice is yours, however.
Attracting, marketing, and hiring candidates requires a plan and careful approach. We often spend years planning for a new fire engine but haphazardly throw together a hiring plan when we notice we are short of staff. Like many things within your authority, the process you use is your choice if you stay within your agency's policies and the State and Federal laws established for employment. Please note that employment laws do benefit volunteers and paid-on-call firefighters as well. Your department will be more successful when you design a hiring plan based on who you need to fill the firefighter role as your organization changes over the years.
In part 4 of this series, we will discuss training your new firefighter and onboarding them into their new role.