In this installment, we will talk a little bit about recruitment. The previous 4 items in the 6R system are key in recruiting highly trained and highly motivate employees as they show a commitment to employees and equipment as well as giving a real understanding as to what your department is all about.
There are hundreds of articles out there in the fire service publications about how to recruit, who to recruit, when to recruit and why to recruit. Lets look into each of those and see where it takes us.
The “How” of it: How you should recruit should be based on what your department make up is and what resources you have to use. Again, there have been multiple articles and blogs out there about this but let me add my two cents, for what it’s worth.
Your process of recruiting should be something that the entire department is involved in. A lot of information a can been obtained from the line firefighter about what ways would work best in your community to gain employees. The line crews are the ones on the street and the ones who are really interacting with your mutual aid partners. They also are the “face” of your department as they are the ones that are most visible to the community. This goes for volunteer departments as well. Those employees are from the community so they should have an even better feel for who may be interested in employment.
So when we look at the “how”, turn to the resources that are readily available, your employees. This is a very cost effective way to do it. It is much like companies who use their fleet vehicles to advertise. They have the vehicles available so they capitalize on them to get their message out. On that note, use your rigs to get your message out as well. They are there so you might as well use them. Your employees and your rigs are both good tools to use. You need to take a broad look at where you need to advertise as well. Putting up flyers in the usual places helps but in this day and age, social media has such a broad reach, that it must be part of your recruitment plan. Also, put the word out in places that you may not think would be of benefit. Internet adds with searchable keywords are quick ways to grab the attention of a prospective employee. Posting in local establishments and with community groups may produce results. They may catch people that are not from your immediate area.The National Volunteer Fire Council is a great resource as well. You can develop a portal to your department profile and describe exactly who you are looking for.
The “how” can’t be discussed without talking about money. Recruitment should always be on your “radar if you are a Chief. You shouldn’t worry about it only when you are in need of employees. The plan to recruit should be a dynamic one and one that is discussed at each staff or department meeting. The idea is is that it keeps the topic fresh in everyone’s minds. This will help you to capitalize on opportunities to obtain some talent when you may not really be looking for them. Fiscally, keeping the item on the table all of the time will keep your budget line open. There is a lot of temptation to use that money for other projects, only to find the line item empty when you desperately need to recruit. God forbid you lose someone in the line of duty, you will have a sudden void that needs filled. If you don’t have a plan and money in place, there will be a delay in getting that spot filled as you scramble to find the money to get it done.
The “Who” of it: When you are looking to recruit, a lot of the things mentioned above come into play. The line crews usually have a good feel for who is looking for a job or what kind of talent pool there is. The area I work in has several community colleges and vocational schools that train a lot of students to be firefighters and EMT’s. Recently, we have seen the attendance in the programs start to wain and the once over saturated market is beginning to dry up. It is becoming harder for departments to find individuals to fill the spots. There are full time spots going unfilled. We are not sure what the issue is. We suspect that the “millennials” don’t want to work in a hazardous occupation or the many years of “everyone gets a trophy” finally reached the fire service so we can’t find people to do this mentally and physically demanding job. We haven’t put our finger on it yet and I don’t think we will be able to point to one thing and say that is what is wrong. Anyway, the point is that you need to use the internal talent to find the external talent. They can, armed with the right message, find you some good people.
The “When” of it: Deciding when to recruit is easy. You should be actively recruiting all of the time. Your needs obviously fluctuate from year to year but you should always have some sort of active recruiting program going. When I was a volunteer firefighter, there was a waiting list of people who wanted to be on the department. It is definitely not that way now in this area but it was a byproduct of a continual recruitment plan. We always were looking for people. That should be the strategy. Keep looking for people even when you don’t need them.
Another opportunity to look for folks is when your local programs are going to graduate students from their programs. It seems like a “no-brainer” but you would be surprised how infrequently departments go into the schools looking for employees. You should develop a relationship with the programs in your area if there are any and try to grab the talent when they are “fresh off the farm” so to speak. You may be fighting your neighbors for the same crop of fresh faces but it is worth the effort for the possibility of gaining some recruits.
An additional thing to consider is developing a program for recruiting out of the high schools. This is a bit more labor intensive but could bare some fruit in the long run. The idea is to get them interested early and to foster or mentor them through their fire training. Having the ability to be their resource throughout their development as a firefighter will produce a firefighter that will work well with your organization. They will know what is expected of them and understand the dynamics of your organization. Again, I am not breaking new ground here. These ideas are not new but they are worth talking about because I see departments that have relied on word of mouth or their reputation in the area as their only means of recruiting. That worked for a very long time but it is now no longer enough to get the volume of candidates they need. I see them lower some of their minimum standards to try to get people in and that is never good. You can’t bring trash in the front end and hope for a treasure once they hit the street.
The “Why” of it: Why we recruit is somewhat obvious, we need people. But I think it is more than that. As a Chief, you have ideas of what you want to see from your department both now and in the future. You see needs and wants and subconsciously make decisions about how you are going to get to where you want to be. You want the right people to make those visions a reality. The day you realize that you don’t have the right people on staff to get you where you need to go is the day you also realize that you should have been recruiting long before now. It is a real possibility that you don’t have what you need. Don’t be ashamed to look for employees that can fill a particular need in you organization. In the corporate world, this is a regular practice. If the goals of the team can’t be met by the current talent, the company starts to look for someone who can do the job. In the fire service, we see this in an external post for an officers position. The department leaders may feel that the talent for that spot is just not there internally so they reach outside. This is not always the case. Some cities and townships require all postings to be external or internal/external. Either way, there is a need that is not being met.
As I always say, I am not reinventing the wheel. The above information may seem generic to some but there are those out there that may learn something or it may spark an idea. That’s all I am trying to do. I am no expert. All I can do is give my opinion and hope that it helps.
Stay safe and watch each others backs!