Attracting The Next Generation


CarolinaFireJournal - By Chris Goins
By Chris Goins
05/12/2016 -

I’ve had the opportunity to talk to many fire chiefs, not only about building new stations but also about other types of challenges they encounter. One question I often hear is “how do we attract the younger generation to our department?”

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Our team at Bobbitt Design Build is intrigued by this question, because it affects how we design and build fire stations for the future. Upon further investigation, we learned some interesting facts about millennials and what they would want in a new station.

Generation Y/Millennials
Born 1981 to 2000

Through our experiences in designing and building fire departments across the Carolinas, we get to engage with fire stations of all shapes and sizes, in both urban and rural communities, and with a wide range of facility requirements. As we design and build new facilities, certain features are proving to be particularly popular with millennials. We’re seeing fire stations opt for designs that include:

  • A contemporary dayroom
  • A state-of-the-art kitchen and eating area
  • Modern bathrooms and shower facilities
  • A large meeting room
  • Outdoor eating space with built-in grill
  • The latest technology throughout the station
  • Flat screen TVs in every room

Departments that plan to build in the near future should consider all of these as potential features in their station design. The next step is to make sure the community — and young people in particular — have the chance to see your new station and discover all the advantages of joining your department.

To understand how to engage the younger generation, we considered their common characteristics according to www.marketteacher.com, and we looked deeper into what motivates them. We talked with marketing experts, and we even interviewed a young volunteer firefighter to get his thoughts on the subject.

The ideas that follow may be worth considering for your department as you plan for the future, including aspects of your fire station facility that will appeal to the next generation.

Millennials are nurtured by
Omnipresent Parents, Optimistic and Focused

Since parents are usually the most influential figures in a young adult’s life, getting moms and dads to see the positive impact your department can have on their children is the first step. Parents can be your biggest advocates. The key is getting them to visit your station so they can see your new facility firsthand.

Community outreach gives you a forum to talk with parents and community leaders about all the advantages you can offer young adults. Consider hosting an open house for community members to learn more about your fire department. Open up the training room for children’s birthday parties and other events; after all, those kids may join your department one day. These are great opportunities for you to show off the design and features of your station and the amenities it offers.

Millennials Feel Enormous Academic Pressure

Are there ways your department can support the academics of the local students? Consider creating a space in your new station for young people to come study. Offer mentoring or tutoring at your station. Create a scholarship fund. This is just the beginning of the impact your department could have on adolescents in the area.

Start by assessing the utilization of your existing facility. I often hear of departments with great weight training rooms that never get used. If that’s the case at your location, consider incorporating a library or a computer lab into the design of your new station that may be more utilized.

Millennials Have Great Expectations for Themselves

Many millennials dream of doing great things when they become adults. However, today’s young people often find themselves stuck between adolescence and adulthood. There also may be millennials in your community that are stuck in dead-end jobs and want a fresh start. Often times, young people need role models and encouragement to choose a career path and take on greater responsibilities.

As a fire professional, you know that joining a fire department is the start of becoming something important. Consider holding an annual career day, inviting kids of different ages to come interact with your staff and learn what being a firefighter is all about. Having a state-of-the-art department will get them excited about joining and doing something great with their lives.

Millennials Get All Their Information and Most of Their Socialization From the Internet

Millennials have never known a world without computers. According to an SDL study, millennials in the U.S touch their smartphones 45 times a day, and comScore reports that they spend nearly 30 hours each month on social apps. This concept is sometimes hard for “older” people to grasp because they remember a world without electronic devices. However, younger generations have always had access to these technologies.

So how can a fire department use technology to their advantage? I’ve got two words for you: Free Wi-Fi. Consider incorporating a space at your station for the public to use your Internet and opening up your library or computer lab to the public.

Fire departments also have the opportunity to connect with millennials through social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and YouTube. Once you establish a social media presence, post content to your channel(s), and do it regularly — three to five posts per week. Don’t forget to showcase your facility by posting pictures and promoting events that take place there.

Millennials Prefer to Work in Teams

I’m not a firefighter, but I’ve observed how working as a team is a critical requirement of the job. This makes fire and rescue an ideal profession for millennials who are drawn to a collaborative work environment. As you interact with young people in the community, you and your staff can demonstrate the team atmosphere and camaraderie that are integral to a career in firefighting. This could be a key selling point for attracting new recruits.

With regard to your facility, consider how you can incorporate this team-oriented feel into the design of your station. One way is to have an open office concept instead of individual offices. Many progressive companies today, like Google, embrace this type of workspace where the focus is on collaboration and offering a dynamic, interactive work environment.

One Millennial’s Story

In writing this article, I had the chance to sit down and talk with Jackson Ray, a 20-year-old volunteer with Pilot Fire Department in Zebulon, N.C. We talked in detail about how he got involved with the department and what he thinks would attract his peers.

Ray has been a junior firefighter since he was 14, and he said that ever since he was a little boy he knew he wanted to go into fire and rescue as a profession. He remembers attending cookouts sponsored by the station and having the chance to interact with firefighters.

Certainly many young people could envision themselves sliding down the iconic fire pole, and Ray is no different. That was at the top of his list when asked what his generation would like to see in the design of a station. But he also added that millennials might enjoy a media room, game room, updated kitchen and an outside recreation area at the station.

Jackson said he hopes to one day move to a bigger department and become a full-time firefighter. When asked what he likes most about being part of the department, his response was, “I enjoy talking with all the older men in the department and hearing all their stories.”

This got me thinking: Maybe the younger generation is simply seeking some positive role models. Where better to find them than at their local fire department.

Pilot Fire Department is lucky to have such an ambitious young man as Jackson Ray, and your department may be looking for recruits just like him. In my opinion, the key is to get the youth involved at a younger age, and design your station to appeal to the next generation. When you’re ready to design and build a fire station facility to attract current millennials and post-millennials, talk with your architect for construction ideas and expertise.

As a Project Developer at Bobbitt Design Build, Chris Goins has worked on multiple fire station design-build projects. Over the past 20 years, Bobbitt has been a pioneer in design build for fire stations across the Carolinas and is recognized throughout the industry for quality work.
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Issue 32.4 | Fall 2018

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