In previous articles we have discussed the numerous generations that may be employed within the current fire service. What we need to explore now is how and where do we recruit for the vacancies and how do we train for those fire positions within a municipality.
Although there may be generational gaps with as many as four different generations working at the same time, where does one look for the best and most qualified? Does hard work within a skilled trade count for the background for employment or does a college degree in fire science meet the criteria that is necessary for hiring?
Let’s look at some of the available options that can enhance one’s opportunity for the hiring process. One example are the Explorers programs that are available to individuals between the ages of 16 to 21 years of age. These organizations can introduce the students to real life fire situations as well as train within some departments as future firefighters. This type of program is typically organized by current fire personnel and can even train cadets for potential employment where a community college may not be available. In some cases, the Explorers program is a great opportunity to meet the firefighters that really want to advance the department. These are organizations in both the volunteer and paid departments. The advantage of this type of recruiting and training is that the firefighters can train as if they were already employed and can see if the students or participant really is interested in the career field.
High school fire science programs are a great avenue for students that are in the high school setting. There are numerous programs across the United States that have created this as an alternative for a high school diploma. These programs can be recognized by the National Fire Academy and the Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education/FESHE committee for recognition as a qualified program that meets the model established by FESHE. These programs introduce the student to topics and areas of what a firefighter would be exposed to in the educational setting as well as some limited fire training scenarios. Some high schools can even coordinate educational paths with their local community colleges for dual credit.
Community colleges may offer fire science programs where the student has either come in with dual credit from a high school program or simply just starting out at the college level with an interest in the fire science programs. Students in the college program are often exposed to the many areas of the fire service that includes not only firefighting but also, fire investigations, fire inspections, fire administration and numerous other areas that may be of interest. One of the areas that is gaining attention is that of fire marshals. This area in California is one of the fastest growing areas that has seen increased interest in that field, so much so that fire inspectors are going into private industry/consulting for teaching of these courses. Many community colleges are also affiliated with four-year institutions that have articulation agreements that will accept the two-year degree in full and the student moves up as a junior with 60 credits to complete the four degree. These institutions also have articulation agreements that create an interest for the student to move up into a master’s degree program, which allows for the firefighter to now meet the qualifications for a chief position.
Now let’s look at other avenues that can be attractive for one to look into that is very important to the qualifications to become a firefighter. Skilled trades offer a program that is identified as an apprenticeship program. Pipefitters, sheet metal workers, carpenters, electricians, teachers, healthcare providers, manufactures, automotive workers, public service workers, labor and building workers, and probably numerous more unions that can be of importance to the firefighter career field. There really isn’t a career field that is not effected by the services of the fire service personnel. When someone dials 911, they want a problem solved and they don’t care what the training is. You are a firefighter and the problems are all solved by you answering the call. So again, the numerous fields of study and preparation can all be an avenue to meet the basic requirements to becoming a fire service employee.
Another avenue is the military. In the United States Air Force there is a career field for one that wants to become a firefighter. Basic fire training is taught within the fire department of the Air Force at Goodfellow Air Force Base. Here they train for aircraft fire and rescue/ARFF as well as structural firefighting. The USAF also trains with the capability of responding with the local fire departments and also has the ability to train the local fire department with the basic ARFF training so that they have mutual aid on both sides, military and public.
With all of the training and recruiting opportunities that has been mentioned and discussed, what do we do about the generations that work within these groups? This will never be an easy task but, what really needs the attention for success is having the individuals from all generations to be sure that they all understand what is needed to be a public servant and also that of one becoming a leader in their field. By all groups knowing ground rules and expectations, we can now start teaching in the role of a fire academy instructor and mold that individual into a firefighter. This can be difficult, but knowing what we are all getting into and all being an integral part of training, we can and will be successful. The career field of firefighting should be taught by all participating and not by point and direct with the expectation of “do as I say not as I do.” Success of all generations in one work setting will depend on the fact that we can all do the right thing at all times and we will continue to train as times and situations change.
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.