Poll call: Should FDs drop U.S. citizenship requirements for new recruits?

A recent poll of FireRescue1 readers found a majority strongly favored one side of the issue


Earlier this year, two U.S. fire departments dropped the citizenship requirement to become a firefighter due to pervasive issues with staffing. Both the Milwaukee Fire Department and the Madison (Wis.) Fire Department are now allowing non-U.S. citizens to join their organizations.

"If someone is otherwise legally hirable, whether or not they are a U.S. citizen, that’s fine with us," said Milwaukee Fire Chief Aaron Lipski. “The word ‘opportunity’ comes to mind for a lot of people. Let’s make sure everybody’s welcome at the table.”

But in a recent FireRescue1 poll, 74% of the nearly 200 respondents did not agree with waiving the citizenship mandate.

FireRescue1 Executive Editor Chief Marc Bashoor said the question calls for common sense: “As a chief looking at ways to attract and keep folks, I think we should look at all reasonable options.”

For him, this would mean that employment is contingent on the eventual citizenship of the fire recruit: “As we require firefighters to swear an oath to our locales, states and the United States, my personal opinion would support allowing legal non-citizens to apply but requiring citizenship by the time they graduate the academy and are sworn in,” Bashoor said. “Sometimes we’ve got to look outside our neat little boxes and look at alternatives.”

However, in his view, waiving citizenship is simply addressing a symptom of a larger issue.

“The reasons for both recruitment and retention struggles have been opined for years, yet our attempts to ‘fix’ the problems have fallen short,” Bashoor said. “Knowing that, we’ve got to find ways that we haven’t looked at before to find and keep folks.”

That’s where the real concern lies, Bashoor said: retention.

“Sure, hiring more people would solve the immediate problem … if we weren’t bleeding people on the backside,” he said. “Something’s not working with what we’re doing now.”

Additional FireRescue1 resources on recruitment

Is your department taking a unique approach to recruitment and retention? Email editor@firerescue1.com and tell us your story. 

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