The Firefighter Drought


Most departments have realized by this point that we are running out of possible employees. I know a few of you out there may say “we don’t seem to have any trouble finding people” or ” we have a stack of applications in the queue”. To that I say, the drought hasn’t hit you yet. Your department reputation or your geographic location is such that you haven’t felt the pinch yet. Good for you! But keep in mind, you will be where we are soon.

Much has been written about recruitment. There are strategies that come from every angle. Most have been developed by the “greatest” minds in our industry. What I don’t see much of is follow up.  Do these strategies work? Have you gained employees that stay with you? Are they strategies that are more of a quick fix or ones that make the numbers look good for your government leaders so they will get off of your back?

In my area, the drought is severe. The departments have dropped their minimum daily manning to accommodate the lack of qualified employees. They have taken on different operational models that combine employees on one piece of equipment to take the calls as they come. They have seen the problem only get worse over the last 5 years with no real solid solution or idea about how we will fix it. They fill a void in one place, just to leave a void somewhere else. It is in our nature to be reactionary so we are in the reaction phase right now. Unfortunately, we are a bit unsure how to react so we drop back and punt and hope that the problem goes away. I have said many times that if you can figure out the solution to this problem, you will be speaking in the big room at FDIC and will be giving Lasky, Halton and Brunno a run for their money.

It seems that the further we get away from 9/11, the less interest people have in doing this job. The current climate towards first responders doesn’t help either. We are less likely to get new recruits when it becomes more obvious that people want to hurt or kill us. The general population no longer see the nobility in what we do and with social media being what it is, they are more likely to see the negative interactions than the positive. The story about how the firefighters did something bad sticks with people much longer than the story about rescuing the old lady from the fire.

So what should we do? What will help our cause and what will bring people to our doorstep wanting to be part of our team? Lets mull over some ideas….

  • We should recruit like the military. Get into the schools and talk to the kids about being a public servant. Explain to them what we are about and how to be part of our organization. Perhaps set up a recruitment location that is independent from the government offices or the firehouse where people can go to openly discuss what the job really is and what it means to be a firefighter and/or EMT.
  • Pitch the job as one that only needs a basic level of training to get in. I am all for higher education but when we push for a degree level education for what we do and then tell those degree holders that they will only make $35,000 to$40,000 to start out, it seems a little short sighted. Most people who have the drive for higher education aren’t going to stick with a job that keeps you up all night and punches you in the brain with horrible experiences.
  • People want to know what they will be making. Break down the salary to make it digestible. I have seen recruitment fliers that have no mention of pay. That doesn’t attracted anyone who has a family to support. Your salaries are public record (in most places) so quit acting like it is a secret. You are willing to take the money every two weeks so be willing to accept the scrutiny about how much you make. Most people want to know what they will be making per hour. It’s not hard to put the information out there.
  • Make it clear what you have to offer. You need to help the person who may be considering this line of work understand what they can expect down the line. Free uniforms, sick leave, vacation pay, training reimbursement and other things may be what catches someones interest. Conversely, if they don’t get any benefits, tell them that to. Just be honest. We take for granted that the general public knows what we have to offer but that is often not the case.
  • Make it clear what they may be signing on for. Explain the good and the bad. Make it clear what the ongoing training requirements are. I have talked to quite a few departments that try to hide what will be expected of the new recruit or future employee in the years to come. That seems a bit stupid. How do you expect the new hire to trust you if there is not full disclosure.
  • Talk to your people about what they think will bring in new recruits. They are one of the best resources you have so use them!
  • Talk to the other government employees about what they think could help. They may not be experts in the fire service but they know what being a government employee means to them. They could have ideas that you never thought of.
  • Talk to the community about how they perceive what you do. There are people in the community with an array of talents. They may have solid strategies on recruitment that you have never thought of. I know it’s scary to talk to people but you need the input.

As I have said in the past, I am in no way an expert. I just put ideas out there in the hopes that it will promote a dialogue on certain issues. I hope that this post does just that!

Stay safe out there and watch each others six!

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