Recruiting New Hires

BY JOHN “SKIP” COLEMAN

The process of hiring new firefighters has changed since I entered the fire service. As long as I can remember, the fire department in Toledo was a “civil service” job. A test was given, a list was established, and persons were hired off that list. I took my first test for the fire department in 1971. I finished 45th. A federal judge threw out that list before I was hired. I took the next test and finished 156th and was subsequently hired.

I am sure that prior to my being hired, it was a little easier for friends of politicians and sons of current or retired firefighters to move up the hire list. They were generally kids who had previous knowledge of the job and knew what it took to be a successful employee. I’m sure that some less knowledgeable about or interested in the job were hired as well, but it seemed as if a lot of familiar names rolled through the rosters year after year.

Twenty-two people responded to this month’s Roundtable question. Surprisingly, the outcome was pretty much a tie. Ten respondents stated in some fashion that an individual with a little knowledge about the job and a desire to become a firefighter makes the better firefighter. Nine respondents stated the opposite. Three individuals said it really didn’t matter. Some comments follow.

Question: Does a candidate who wants to become a firefighter and has a little knowledge of the job make a better firefighter than a candidate with little or no desire to become a firefighter who is recruited from the outside?

Bob Metzger, chief, Golden Gate (FL) Fire Control and Rescue District:Excellent candidates often must be recruited. Previous interest is not a requirement for me.

Thomas Dunne, deputy chief, Fire Department of New York: I believe that individuals who have previously shown an interest in becoming firefighters will generally make the best personnel for a department. The physical, mental, and emotional obstacles encountered call for applicants who have already displayed an interest in dealing with such challenges. The best new recruits I have worked with are those who have wanted to become firefighters for a long time and have done everything in their power to get the job. Initiative should be given precedence over recruitment, particularly at a time when many departmental budgets are facing restrictions on their recruitment efforts.

Rick Lasky, chief, Lewisville (TX) Fire Department: The questions probably should be, What kind of a hiring process do you have in place? and Once you hire candidates from either side, what do you do to get them into the job or further into the job?

Gary Seidel, chief, Hillsboro (OR) Fire Department: In addition, even though we find a highly motivated and prepared candidate who successfully passes all aspects of the candidate selection process, we must also ensure that all members in the prospective recruit’s family are made aware of the expectations, risks, and hazards associated with a career in firefighting. This should be done in a family orientation prior to the recruit academy.

Billy Goldfeder, deputy chief, Loveland-Symmes (OH) Fire Department:No matter what, the key is massive and intense background checks with nothing left unturned, including psychological and physical evaluations and testing—doing everything you can to make sure you are getting the best. Start with the best; allow nothing to interfere with that.

Adam Miceli, assistant chief, Rockland (ME) Fire/EMS: We must ask ourselves why we’re reaching out to those who have no previous interest in the fire service. Anytime the fire service looks specifically for any “type” of candidate other than the best person for the job, it is doing a disservice to itself and the people it protects.

After 9/11, one talk show host, remarking about firefighters, said something like this: “They are one group of people who are not referred to by race, gender, sexual preference, or religion. No one says the ‘Asian fireman or female firefighter or black firefighter.’ They are just firefighters.” We are just firefighters. That’s something we’ve worked hard to be and should work hard to protect.

Mary Hauprich, safety officer, Islesboro (ME) Fire Department: In my community, women are completely out of the “recruitment” picture. If I hadn’t stumbled headlong into the fire service, I never would have heard of any opportunities available for me there or have discovered a passion for working in the emergency services. It turns out that I’ve contributed a fair bit to the department. I strongly encourage departments to make opportunities available to all citizens of their community.

John “Skip” Coleman retired as assistant chief from the Toledo (OH) Department of Fire and Rescue. He is a technical editor of Fire Engineering; a member of the FDIC Educational Advisory Board; and author ofIncident Management for the Street-Smart Fire Officer (Fire Engineering, 1997), Managing Major Fires (Fire Engineering, 2000), and Incident Management for the Street-Smart Fire Officer, Second Edition (Fire Engineering, 2008).

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