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Top 5 recruitment tools – and where fire departments can do more

Most agencies rely heavily on social media, career fairs and youth programs


Photo/Daniel Shoffner

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Recruitment continues to be a hot topic for fire departments nationwide. While 20 years ago recruitment simply consisted of career firefighters talking to their children, neighbors or the younger volunteers about “the best job in the world,” we’ve all seen a major shift in recent years.

As many of us can remember, when we began looking for a career in the fire service fresh out of school, it was not unusual to go through multiple hiring processes before landing a job at a department, and not necessarily the one that was at the top of the list. Today, there are more vacant positions than potential applicants. This heightens the need to seek out the most desirable firefighters and expand our efforts to reach new groups. The process has caused many departments to look internally at recruitment processes that may have previously omitted segments of the population – people who could make great firefighters. Still, overall recruitment efforts are facing scrutiny to determine what we can do better to attract firefighters who are passionate about the job.

Bottom line: The fire service is no longer immune to competitive job markets and must identify new recruitment strategies to simply get the necessary number of firefighters on the trucks.

Popular recruitment tools

FireRescue1’s recent What Firefighters Want survey underscored the severity of the issue with 94% of respondents indicating their fire department has experienced staffing challenges in the past 3 years. What’s more, only 26% indicated their department has a strong recruitment plan in place, with 52% indicating their department does not have a strong recruitment plan to mitigate staffing challenges.


The survey cataloged the recruitment efforts employed by fire departments, with a list of potential activities and initiatives feasible for any type of department. Let’s walk through several of these options and how they can be used to attract the next generation of firefighters.

1. Social media: Of all the options, social media, specifically a social media coordinator, came out on top, with 46% indicating employing this tactic in recruitment efforts.

Love it or hate it, we have to embrace it. We live in a digital world and social media reaches almost everyone today in one capacity or another. This is the optimal portal to the world to tell the story of your department and what you are about. This can include department events, personnel spotlights and even the types of incidents your department runs. In addition, social media is largely how many people communicate today, and for many, it is their primary means of obtaining news and information. Social media platforms are easy to access, and if you have someone in your department who is tech-savvy, it’s essentially a free marketing platform.

2. Career fairs: The second most popular recruitment tool used, according to survey results, is attending career fairs. These may be sponsored by community colleges, business associations or even high schools.

If your department participates in a career fair, you need to send your most passionate and positive people on your roster who can foster conversations and spur interest in the fire service. This is not the place to send the crusty old firefighter who is weeks away from retirement or the quiet, shy firefighter who doesn’t like chatting with people. It’s a great place to make a one-on-one connection and interact with potential recruits.

3. High school fire cadet program: The third most popular recruitment effort is conducting a high school fire cadet program. This can take the form of a Fire Explorer Post or a junior firefighter program as well. These have long been popular ways to sow the seeds of the fire service in young individuals who are beginning to look toward life after school and what career field may fit them best. Many of us got our start in the fire service this way. These programs provide an opportunity for young people to get a first-hand look at the fire service, being able to train, run calls and hang out around the fire station. These individuals can be an asset to the department as well, helping out around the station and on calls, acting in a capacity that does not involve fighting fire, but nonetheless providing additional hands on scene.

4. Recruitment videos: The fourth most popular method of recruitment employed by departments is one of my favorites – the recruitment video. This can be used in conjunction with other means, such as posting the video to social media, and is a great tool to take to career fairs.

Recruitment videos are an excellent way to highlight the best aspects of the fire service, not to mention they can be fun to make. Use them to showcase training, such as live-burns, high-angle rescue training, vehicle extrication, and water rescue training. If using actual footage from incidents, make sure you have your legal bases covered, and by all means, be respectful with the material selected. For example, avoid footage from incidents that involved fatalities or individuals with severe injuries, as you never know who will see the video. There are a lot of video editing software packages available, and it doesn’t take a professional media service to produce a quality video.

For more information on making a great recruitment video, check out my article “How to create an incredible firefighter recruitment video.”

5. Online recruitment portal: The fifth most popular recruitment method is the use of an online recruitment portal. This means having a dedicated recruitment tool on the department website.

This is another way to showcase your department and what you do in an online environment that can reach a variety of audiences. If your department has a fire cadet, fire explorer or junior firefighter program, dedicate some space on your website to highlight these opportunities. Spotlight your members, your incidents and your training. Spruce up your website, and keep it updated and relevant.

Additional tools: Other recruitment initiatives identified in the survey not employed as often: signing bonuses, dedicated housing (such as a resident program), tuition assistance, and stipends to purchase uniforms and equipment. These are great tools but ones that typically require some form of a financial investment; certainly not every department is going to be able to provide these benefits.


The most shocking stat

In perhaps the most shocking stat in the recruitment efforts list, 19% of respondents stated that their departments didn’t participate in ANY of the recruitment efforts listed. That is a travesty, as we have a lot of stories to tell about a great career field. As outlined, many of these initiatives don’t even cost a department money. They may take a little bit of time and effort, but the return on investment can be great.

Even more noteworthy, further analysis of the data shows that of the 19% of respondents, 55% were from career departments. Volunteer departments represented 28%, and combination departments represented 22%. It is unfortunate and surprising that career departments were lacking in the area of recruitment, especially compared to their volunteer and combination counterparts.

The fire service simply cannot afford to not participate in some form of recruitment efforts as staffing issues are not likely to subside anytime soon. In addition, there are countless people out there who would make excellent firefighters, but have either never really considered it or have no idea how to pursue a career in the fire service. Recruitment efforts by a fire department might be the only information these individuals receive about the fire service being an option for their future.

Daniel Shoffner is the battalion chief of EMS and public information officer for the Burlington (North Carolina) Fire Department, and has 25 years of experience in the fire service. He is also a volunteer with the Mt. Hope Community Fire Department in Guilford County. Shoffner has served with the Kimesville Community Fire-Rescue Department in Guilford County, worked for Guilford County EMS and volunteered with Emerald Isle EMS in Carteret County. He holds a Ph.D. in public policy, with research focusing on fire apparatus staffing, plus a master’s degree in public administration concentrated in emergency management. Shoffner is an adjunct faculty member in the Fire Science and Emergency Management Program at Purdue University Global as well as the Fire Protection Technology and Emergency Medical Services departments with Guilford Technical Community College.