Is the Changing Personality of the Job Hurting Recruiting?

Fewer People Seeking Fire Fighting Career, Volunteer or Paid

Across the country, it is reported that recruiting and retaining fire fighters is becoming more difficult. While this decline initially impacted volunteer departments, full time paid departments are beginning to see their waiting lists shrink to nil. Even more challenging is the fact that paid departments are experiencing difficulties with retaining fire fighters that are trained and experienced. There are now two market segments to be addressed when recruiting individuals for the fire service.

My great-grandfather was a natural for the Columbus, Ohio Fire Department in the early 1900s. After all, he grew up under the tutelage of his father a well know blacksmith from the near north side of the city. Back then everything from the steam pumper to the chief’s buggy were horse-drawn.

While Joe had to transition from horses to internal combustion engines, his skills still required an inclination to take care of things and fix things that did break. Blacksmiths became mechanics.

Even to this day, one of the questions asked in the interview process is “what do you know about construction?”. The more experience you have in the building trades, the better. A recent FaceBook contributor called firefighting a “dirty, dangerous, labor intense, blue-collar occupation.” And he said it with pride.

Now, even more than the transition from horses to engine driven vehicles, the fire service is going through a major shift in personality. A shift that has been many years in the making but the tipping point may have been reached. The emphasis is shifting from firefighting and rescue to more and more the offering of medical and medical support services. Metropolitan departments across the country are changing the rockers on the back of their shirts from XYZ Fire Department to XYZ Fire and Medical Department.

Departments require EMT Certifications before trainees are accepted. One major department requires that each new firefighter be assigned to medical transportation for 200 shifts prior to being assigned to an engine or ladder company.

The principles and tools used for firefighting have become more technical, but the bulk of the work is becoming medical and technical to an extreme. Two different personalities are attracted to each side of the “fire” service spectrum.

The question becomes, will the ability to have empathy and the desire to help people become the glue that joins the two dissimilar job personalities? Among all the personnel issues considered in putting together successful teams, a working distribution of those inclined to the firefighting personality will be balanced by those inclined to the medical service aspects of the job.

Pete Adams
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