fire chiefs

How to Recruit More Volunteer Firefighters

The first organized volunteer firefighting service has a rich history dating back to early Eighteenth century in Boston.  In 1711 the Mutual Fire Societies was formed to combat the ever growing presence of destructive fires in the fast growing English Colonies.  The early group of volunteers was described by Benjamin Franklin, a prominent volunteer firefighter, as “a club or society of active men belonging to each fire engine, whose business is to attend all fires with it whenever they happen.”  The premise was simple, when fire emerged from a member of the Mutual Fire Society’s dwelling, other members of the club mobilized into organized units to battle the blaze.  Each society had approximately twenty members and is credited with being the first volunteer brigade of firefighters. As residents sought further protection from fire, statesman such as Franklin took notice.  Franklin’s progressive thought aimed to provide whole communities the advantage of protecting all the property of the community. Formed in Philadelphia, each group of volunteers banded together in small groups of 30.  The demographics of group volunteers represented the diversity that the city was experiencing in the early 1700s, consisting of professionals, merchants, and trades people. The volunteer departments paid for their own equipment and placed it in advantageous places close to a source of water and other firefighting infrastructure.  All groups were aligned with protecting their collective interests in the community and staffing was adequate.

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Fire Chiefs: How to Set Your Fire Department Apart From the Rest

firefighter teamwork

The process of recruiting, selecting, and retaining talent in a fire organization is one of the most difficult challenges a leader can face.  Everyone has read or experienced first-hand a story about successfully hiring a recruit and then having the probationary firefighter get hurt within his first days of employment, experience irreconcilable performance issues, or worst of all, bring discredit to the department who they were sworn to protect.  To avoid the unnecessary waste of time, money, and resources devoted to hiring individuals who will not be a good fit, a statement of principles attached to your recruitment process is essential. A statement of principles in its simplest form is a set of beliefs that define your department values and overall philosophy. These standards set by the leadership of the department enable desirable recruits to gain vital transparency on how your department sets itself apart from other fire organizations.  Implementing a set of organizational principles now will also help influence your current talent to start embodying the culture that other firefighters will want to be a part of for years to come. As always, the values that you set out for your department must be those that you hold dear and are ultimately held accountable to as well. The statement of principles you define for your department can be as varied as the individuals you set out to influence, here are a few suggestions that you may want to consider.

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How to Improve Diversity in Your Fire Department and Why It’s Important

firefighters diversity

Demographic trends indicate that women and minorities are the fastest-growing segments of the U.S. workforce. As of 2012, women accounted for nearly half of the workforce, while minorities made up 36 percent of the workforce. However, this growth is not reflected in the fire service industry.  According to the NFPA, women made up just over 3 percent of firefighters, while minorities made up less than 20 percent. As people of different nationalities, religions, and genders choose the fire service for a career, fire organizational leadership and firefighters themselves must adapt to the changing demographic of the communities they serve.

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Women Are Beginning to Take More Leadership Roles in the Fire Service

women in firefighting

Since the beginning of the women’s rights movement in 20th century America, women have taken on leadership roles all across the nation. From corporate executives to politicians, females have gained authoritative positions within numerous career paths. However, in some male-dominated industries, women have struggled to reach these leadership roles. One such industry is the fire service.     

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Common Challenges Volunteer Firefighters and their Leaders Face

volunteer firefighter challenges

The National Fire Department Registry (NFDR) published a report in April 2017 detailing the number and type of personnel who man the firehouses throughout the US.  The NFDR published that there are 27,192 fire departments that staff about 1,215,300 firefighting personnel.  One striking and surprising result of the NFDR study is that of the active firefighting personnel, 32 percent were career firefighters, 56 percent were volunteer firefighters, and 12 percent were paid-per-call firefighters.

The statistics compiled by the NFDR highlight a challenge faced by fire departments and the cities, towns, and municipalities they are sworn to protect.  The fact is that when you call for help or have an emergency, five out of ten firefighters who show up to render aid are volunteering. Volunteer fire departments cover vast sections of the country that are not serviced by paid fire services.  Traditionally these departments existed primarily to respond mainly to structure and wildland fires.  However, as funding for EMS services is reduced, volunteers are finding themselves responding to accidents, technical rescue, and other life-threatening emergencies.  The new administration’s unprecedented cuts have also befallen onto volunteer fire station budgets.  The budget cuts and reduced funding are raising concerns about the state of department readiness and the ability to respond with near obsolete equipment. In order for the volunteer agencies to succeed they must keep up with the needs, growth, and changes of their community and society.  Simply put, you simply cannot use 1960 technologies to service 2018 problems.

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