I gave a lot of thought to identifying the biggest challenge facing the American fire service in 2019. Many things came to mind: funding; fire prevention - if every building was sprinklered and all had working smoke alarms, it would solve a lot of other problems; political influences; initial, regular and ongoing training, and a bunch more.

But the one constant that kept popping up is the people issue. Staffing. This obviously isn’t the first time you’ve heard that. Normally, when we talk about staffing, we talk about the number of firefighters on the apparatus. That is not exactly what I'm talking about. What I mean is, in 2019, we better figure out where our next group of recruits is coming from.

Measurable Drop In Applicants

If one fire department is paying more than another, members jump ship

On the career side, numerous areas are reporting a measurable drop in applicants—in other words, they need people who want to be firefighters and medics. In some areas, it’s a bidding war. If one fire department is paying more than another, members jump ship. And who can blame them? They have families to take care of.

But when the dust clears, there are still far fewer people interested in this job than we need. Some theories are that the new generation:

  • Doesn’t like helping people
  • Are self-focused
  • Aren’t into doing physical things
  • Are lazy
  • Can make the same money without shift work
  • Can make the same money without risk

None of these theories gets us far in addressing the problem.

They need people who WANT to be firefighters and medics
The goal of any fire department is to deliver staffed, trained interior firefighters just a few minutes after someone dials 9-1-1

Big Picture Focus

On the volunteer side, all you have to do is listen to a fire radio nearly anywhere in the U.S. (and Canada) and you will hear volunteer fire departments toning out... toning out... and toning out—with little response when members are responding from home or work. It, too, is a measurable problem.

There are volunteer departments with little funding and others with plenty of funding. Regardless, there seems to be little “big picture” focus on solving the problem based upon what’s best for the people having the fire. Some say to simply hire career firefighters. Is it that simple? What are the pros? And are there any cons? There certainly are.

Trained Interior Firefighters

Some departments solve the problem by having their volunteers on duty, in quarters, ready to roll

The old model of volunteers responding from home or work doesn’t work very well when you consider the proven fire spread in 2019 vs. fire spread even just 20 years ago. Some departments solve the problem by having their volunteers on duty, in quarters, ready to roll.

That may be the least expensive option depending upon the local model. Some hire part-time firefighters. Some unfairly and regularly rely on mutual aid. Some have a fair and balanced mutual aid system. Some have their heads in the sand.

The goal of any fire department is to deliver staffed, trained interior firefighters just a few minutes after someone dials 9-1-1. If we don’t have people knocking on the fire station doors to become career firefighters or to volunteer, that goal is in jeopardy.

I simply can’t see a bigger, more immediate challenge for 2019 than the “people” issue.

Share with LinkedIn Share with Twitter Share with Facebook Share with What's App Share with Facebook
Download PDF version Download PDF version

Author profile

In case you missed it

NFPA Report Highlights Progress In Decreasing Fires And Deaths
NFPA Report Highlights Progress In Decreasing Fires And Deaths

We are currently seeing fewer fires in the United States than in past decades. However, statistically, if a fire is reported in your home, you are more likely to die today than 40 years ago. Today’s homes with their synthetic furnishings and open floor plans burn faster than homes did in the past. Occupants might have fewer than three minutes to escape after a fire starts. Every 24 seconds, a U.S. fire department responds to a fire somewhere in the country. Nationwide, a civilian dies in a fire every 3 hours and 10 minutes, and a home fire injury occurs every 43 minutes. NFPA report - ‘Fire Safety in the United States Since 1980’ These are among the insights put forward in the latest National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) report ‘Fire Safety in the United States Since 1980’. The project was sponsored and executed by NFPA, with administrative oversight provided by the Fire Protection Research Foundation. The report notes that a lot of progress has been made in decreasing fires and fire deaths, in the years since the landmark ‘America Burning’ report was published in 1973. The new report focuses on the changing trends since 1980. Deploying sprinklers and smoke alarms The widespread use of smoke alarms in homes has been one of the biggest success stories in fire safety in the past 50 years The combination of an engineered solution enforced by codes and standards, and supported by public education has been effective in bringing down the number of reported fires and fire deaths. Adding sprinklers as an additional safety layer further reduces the fire death rate. The widespread use of smoke alarms in homes has been one of the biggest success stories in fire safety in the past 50 years, although 20.5% of single-family homes have no working smoke alarms, and 7.6% have no smoke alarms at all. Fire sprinklers control 97% of the fires in which they operate, although only 5% of year-round housing units have sprinklers. For homes, there has been a decline in the number of deaths per 1,000 reported fires in apartment buildings, while there has been an increase in the deaths in less regulated one- and two-family homes. Cooking, the leading cause of home fires More work is necessary. Cooking remains the leading cause of home fires and home fire injuries, and it is among the leading causes of home fire deaths. Cooking is the only major cause of fire that has resulted in more fires and fire deaths in 2014-2018 than in 1980-1984, which emphasizes the need for fire safety solutions in this area. The UL fire safety standards for new electric coil ranges are a step in the right direction, but more work is needed to ensure that something as simple as food preparation does not lead to death and destruction. Smoking, a major cause of home fire deaths Smoking has been the leading cause of home fire deaths for most of the last four decades and has remained the leading cause for 2014–2018 as a whole. Between 1980 and 2018, the annual number of home structure fires decreased from 734,000 to 363,000, while the number of deaths decreased from 5,200 to 2,720. Adjusted to 2018 dollars, the annual level of property loss remained relatively constant, decreasing slightly from US$ 8.7 billion in 1980 to US$ 8.0 billion in 2018. Injuries decreased during the time period from 19,700 to 11,200. When considering population, fire rates per thousand population has decreased from 3.2 to 1.1 during 1980-2018, deaths decreased from 22.9 to 8.3 per million population, and per-capita dollar loss decreased from US$ 38.4 to US$ 24.5. Fires in hospitals and nursing homes The NFPA study also analyzes fires involving hospitals and nursing homes The NFPA study also analyzes fires involving hospitals and nursing homes, as well as catastrophic multiple-death fires and fires in the wildland/urban interface (WUI), as they have the potential to cause significant human loss. Buildings such as hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and hotels have seen stricter requirements for fire safety in the last four decades and, as a result, catastrophic fires in these types of buildings are now rare. Great progress in preventing hospital fires Great progress has been made in preventing hospital fires. In 1980–1984, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of 7,100 hospital fires annually, resulting in an average of five deaths per year. In 2014–2018, there was an estimated average of only 1,100 hospital and hospice fires that caused one death per year. None of the deaths in this period were patients. The wildland/urban interface (WUI) has grown, as has the intensity of the fire problem in these areas. WUI fires burn homes, cars, and a variety of other properties. Fatal injuries can occur in homes, outside, or in vehicles while trying to evacuate. Wildland fire season lasts longer due to human-caused ignition rather than lightning causes. Human-caused WUI fires made up 97 percent of WUI fires.

Welcoming A New Generation: Millennials In The Fire Service
Welcoming A New Generation: Millennials In The Fire Service

Given that the majority of today’s workforce is comprised of Millennials and Gen-Z employees, the fire service needs to up its game to attract these younger candidates into employment opportunities in an environment dominated by Baby Boomers. And the demographic trends will continue: Millennials will make up 75% of the U.S. workforce by 2030, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. To attract Millennials to the fire service, and to manage them once they are onboarded, it is necessary to understand the motivations, needs, and expectations of this group. In fact, given the size of this demographic and their crucial role in the future of the fire service, shifting focus to attract them to the fire service workforce is a top priority. Choosing a new career path Millennials are not as young as they once were they began turning 40 in 2021. As they enter middle age, some Millennials may be looking to change their career paths. Tired of settling for careers that provided little satisfaction and/or did not match their passions, the older Millennials will be searching for new opportunities. The fire service provides an opportunity to serve to provide purpose to a new career path For many Millennials, their career path has not matched their ideals or what they imagined back in high school or college. Some are looking for purpose and to serve the greater good. The fire service provides an opportunity to serve – and a wealth of challenges providing purpose to a new career path. Strategies to attract millennials Let’s consider some of the characteristics that drive Millennials (born between 1981 and 1997) and Gen-Z’ers (born after 1997). Greater understanding enables the fire service to design strategies to attract these employees in a highly competitive labor market.   They are the digital generation: Younger employment candidates access the internet using their smartphones and are more likely to use a smartphone for a work-related process as well. They may spend hours on social media or watching online videos. They prefer to communicate electronically: They want to be engaged in the workplace, and stay informed about all aspects of their employment, but they may not be comfortable with communicating face-to-face. Rather, they prefer texting, tweeting, liking, Facetiming, etc. as primary ways to interact with the world. They embrace technology: Investing in new technology solutions can attract Millennials to a job, and their affinity for technology makes the transition to more innovation-driven approaches easier for employers. (On the other hand, they tend to be less mechanically inclined than Baby Boomers.) They are well educated: Around 39% of Millennials have attained bachelor’s degrees or higher compared to a fourth of Baby Boomers. They want to continue learning: Millennials see learning new skills as a route to greater career success and value the opportunity to learn. Millennials are likely to be enthusiastic about training, which is an important element of modern firefighting. They seek purpose in their employment – and in their lives: Millennials want their employment to be aligned with their worldview and core values. They do see money (salary) as an important priority but are not willing to compromise the bigger picture to make more money. They want to feel empowered. Orientation of Millennials should emphasize values and decision-making boundaries. They want instant gratification: Millennials grew up at the center of their parents’ worlds. Some were coddled. Some grew addicted to receiving trophies for everything, even participation. They may be impatient with the idea of working hard now for an eventual reward. These expectations may be at odds with the fire service’s elements of rank and structure that are based on tenure. They value diversity and want to work for organizations whose management and workforce are diverse. They expect to have many jobs during their career and are less willing to commit to a single employer for a longer-term: The corollary of this outlook is a likely higher level of turnover, a continuing challenge for employers to manage. They value a work-life balance: They are less willing to work long hours. This trend is even more pronounced in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, which reminded employees across the board of a need to shift priorities away from employment and toward a richer home life. They appreciate flexibility. They value teamwork. Group projects and teamwork have recently been a higher priority in schools, colleges, and universities, which have oriented Millennials to value teamwork and being part of a greater whole. They also value constructive feedback and better internal communications. They are skeptical of the importance of business and free enterprise in society. Purpose-seeking Millennials are drawn to non-profit organizations and institutions that serve a higher purpose (such as firefighting!) Welcoming millennials in the fire service The next generation of personnel will likely change the fire service for the better while preserving the core elements Successfully embracing Millennials into the workforce is essential to the success of the fire service. The task demands leveraging their affinity for technology and searches for purpose while managing the culture-shock challenges of adapting to a more structured organization. The fire service can benefit broadly from more attention to issues such as diversity and work-life balance, which are near-and-dear to the hearts of Millennials. In short, the next generation of personnel will likely change the fire service for the better, while preserving the core elements that have enabled it to fulfill its mission for generations.

Protecting The Front Line with Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus
Protecting The Front Line with Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus

The product lifecycle of self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) is approximately ten years, during which time technology inevitably advances considerably in terms of digitization and ergonomics. Increasingly pertinent in the last decade, and especially since the Pandemic, has also been how kit can be designed for ease of cleaning to ensure firefighters are protected from harmful carcinogens as well as bacterial and viral infections. When we surveyed UK firefighters as part of our ‘Health for the Firefighter campaign’ to understand their concerns about exposure to carcinogens and COVID-19, we learned the vast majority (84%) admitted they were concerned about the risk of cancer, while more than two thirds (68%) fear the impact COVID-19 might have on their long-term health. Unequivocal statistics that warranted action in our technology design. Proven support infrastructure The SCBA product lifecycle allows time for medical and safety technology manufacturers, such as Dräger, to take advantage of technological developments, and thoroughly test and future proof them. It also enables us to utilize our direct relationships with the UK fire services, not only to accommodate day-to-day feedback, but also to learn from our support of major incidents such as Grenfell and the Salisbury poisonings. The SCBA product lifecycle allows time for medical and safety technology manufacturers Following Grenfell, for example, we saw the critical importance of reducing the weight and size of kit to allow for greater ease of movement, as well as how critical it is to have the equipment underpinned by a resilient and proven support infrastructure. AirBoss, Dräger’s latest SCBA offering represents a digital progression, where telemetry and connectivity provide the information, and enable the integration and communication required to further firefighter health and wellbeing. This decade’s launch is no longer a product, but a connected solution. Providing vital information Digitalization is critical. Dräger offers the only operationally-proven telemetry solution, providing vital information which is automatically communicated between the wearer of the BA set and the Entry Control Point – without the need for either team to stop what they are doing to send communications. These signals include manual and automatic distress signals, team withdrawal signals, cylinder pressure, time to whistle and time of whistle. This system also provides comprehensive data regarding the firefighters’ condition in relation to their SCBA, proving invaluable to those responsible for monitoring and directing BA crews. A new feature, unique to Dräger’s AirBoss, are ‘Buddylights’ fitted to the backplate, which use digital data from the set to provide immediate and highly-visible signaling to firefighters of their team’s cylinder pressures and physical condition. AirBoss, Dräger’s latest SCBA offering represents a digital progression Providing comprehensive data The optional Dräger Web client enables workshop, management and command staff to utilize the data created on scene wherever they are, and at any time. Reporting can also be customized for multiple purposes from user or device history to synchronized overviews of complete incidents. The ability to create incident reports on evidential and tactical levels provides comprehensive and valuable post-incident analysis tools for debrief and training purposes, or in case of any investigation or inquiry. For future developments, Dräger is working with partners in the UK looking at solutions for location and tracking of firefighters and providing comprehensive data regarding the firefighter’s condition at an incident. The latter includes information such as body core temperature, heart rate and other vital statistics to allow external teams to monitor the early signs of heat stress and other physiological strains. Reducing physical stress Another critical focus is ergonomics. Improved wearer comfort has been achieved through working with medical experts in this field and shifting the center of gravity relationship between the human body and the set, creating a ventilated space by the SCBA backplate. AirBoss’ new Type 4 Nano cylinder provides a continued reduction in cylinder weight AirBoss’ new Type 4 Nano cylinder provides a continued reduction in cylinder weight, which can also reduce full life costs to the service, as the Nano has an unlimited life. These improvements reduce physical stress on the firefighter which in turn reduces the risk of strain-related injuries and fatigue when wearing the set operationally as well as extending the working duration due to reduced physical exertion. With AirBoss, the weight is carried by the legs and pelvis rather than the back. Improving personal comfort This not only improves personal comfort, but also enhances mobility within confined spaces and while descending ladders and stairwells. In an industry where a split second can be the difference between life and death, these advancements are crucial. On a practical level, the Dräger AirBoss has also been designed to be ‘snag-proof’, ensuring that all attachments are neatly connected or integrated to mitigate any risk of snagging or entanglement. Alterations have been made to maximize cleaning practices, including the introduction of smoother, non-absorbent, water-repellent surfaces to make equipment easier to wipe down and decontaminate. Numerous attachment points have also been included so kit can easily be dismantled for optimum cleaning – both mechanically and by hand. To this point, some fire services are moving towards mechanical washing systems, which provide complete consistency in washing temperatures, concentration of detergent, speed and temperature of drying. Vehicle charging systems The Dräger AirBoss solution is centered around four pillars: usability; safety; serviceability and connectivity Recognizing the financial pressures which the fire services are under, the AirBoss system is designed to enable fire services to maximize the significant investment already made into their SCBA and telemetry. With a modular design, AirBoss is backward compatible with existing Dräger PSS SCBA and Telemetry, enabling elements of the existing set to be upgraded over a period of years. This reduces the requirement to purchase a full suite of new equipment including telemetry, pneumatics, electronics, integrated communications, cylinders and vehicle charging systems. Overall, the Dräger AirBoss solution is centered around four pillars: usability; safety; serviceability and connectivity. These pillars, which support utilizing digitalization, improved ergonomics and ease of cleaning, are how we intend to protect our firefighters’ health and wellbeing, both today and as our future-proofed technology advances to meet the needs of tomorrow.

vfd