Baby Boomers and Generation Z

In the arena of public safety, police, fire, emergency medical services and emergency management administration, we are able to see that the generations of employees can range from the Baby Boomers to Generation Z. What comes to mind is not just the potential age differences but what does one see as the important difference between the two groups?


In discussing these phenomena and its interpretation, what are the expectations and the resulting actions either attitudinal/psychological or physically and also how do we expect each group to act with each other? Attitude is actually a subjective measurement that will depend on each person in each group. Physically, it’s measured simply as the ability to perform the strenuous activities on the fire ground and how well do you recover. The recovery becomes very important as we age and also as we attempt to train and keep up with the younger personnel.

However, what do the two generations expect of each other when it comes time to perform in actual firefighting skills on a live scene?

For those in the Baby Boomers era, age has now become an important factor as we have experienced drastic physical changes to our bodies. The mind says we can still run upstairs with the high-rise pack, extra air bottles and ancillary equipment and then begin the firefighting activities. When the fire is out, now we face the reality that firefighting is really a young person’s game.

How do we meet the expectations of those in Generation Z?

Do we recover physically as we did last year or even five years ago and when do we make that decision of potential retirement? Now when we look at the energetic Generation Z firefighter, we see that they can perform this same fire scenario numerous times and the recovery seems like hours for them and days for the Baby Boomers.

Attitude is always great on the fire scene as everybody wants to perform and get done as fast as possible. Maturity, wisdom or aging for the Baby Boomers seems like it’s far off into the distance rather than just around the corner, but here we have that attitude that is trying to keep us young. The Generation Z firefighter, looks at attitude and asks when you are going to call it a day and move on. This is an expectation that is natural but, the Baby Boomers grew up with the attitude of giving 110 percent. Does Generation Z know what giving 110 percent is like?

In recent discussions with individuals from multiple career fields and jobs, responses were all over the spectrum. In reality, Baby Boomers grew up in a time where computers were not the norm and cell phones were only thing seen on TV shows like Get Smart where the phone was in the shoe. Expectations for the Baby Boomers was also to get a job early on in life and look for one that has a future and retirement benefits. Expectations for Generation Z appears to be different in ways that one can ask if they understand what is meant by giving 110 percent.

Generation Z has experienced the ability to have instant results with modern technology and in reality that cell phone that is almost in everyone’s hands is really a computer with a phone application. Generation Z can seek answers to questions in seconds and demonstrations on how to do it on Youtube. With these differences in the workforce, one can see why there is a difference in the attitudes of the two groups. This is not saying it’s good or bad, its simply showing that technology has changed the expectation time frame and today its simply faster than what was available 20 to 30 years ago.

With the attitudes of the two generations what does one expect when working together?

Cooperation will always be the key. For the two groups as in any training or work scenario, show me how to work smarter not harder. This brings us to the relationship of how do we work smarter and not harder together? Well, one way is to show respect for each other no matter what the skill level between the two groups. Respect will go so much further when working with each other because one person does not know everything and when one shows that attitude, maybe it’s time for a conversation on how are we going to complete the task at hand?

There will be times that training with these two groups can be enjoyable and when things are taught in a fun setting, all involved end up learning more and a positive outcome is achieved and the benefit is valued by all. Respect is also earned from both groups when they are able to understand what is expected from each other and also on how individuals of each group can cross train or educate each other on the skills that are lacking because of technology shortcomings.

What happens when two totally different generations work side by side when mitigating an emergency scene?

If the groups have trained together, they will know the expectations of their fellow worker and they can assign each person to a role that they know will be accomplished quickly and efficiently and to the expectation of the supervising officer. In the long run, these groups will be working with members of more than just the Baby Boomers and Generation Z. When training and/or working emergency incidents is done in compliance with the organization’s expectations the observing individuals, either the public or organizational leaders will see, not only coordination and progress but discipline that is needed to function in a positive manner to get the job done.

Mark Rivero worked for the City of Las Vegas, Nevada, Fire and Rescue from 1992 until 2011, holding positions as firefighter, training officer and, ultimately, professional development officer, creating degree pathways for fire service personnel and bringing in educational institutions to address higher education topics and degrees that were specific for the fire service. He currently serves as a program advisor/site coordinator for Southern Illinois University, and as the chairperson for the doctoral degree path committee for professional development at the National Fire Academy. He also works with the American Council on Education, reviewing fire service courses at various institutions across the United States. Rivero received his doctorate from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, in 2004.

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