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I’ve had the privilege of being in Tucson this week for the opening of the Professional Firefighters of Arizona (PFFA) convention. You might ask yourself, why’s the chief at the union convention? The easy answer is – to crash the party. However, that’s not really the story.
Last year was the first time that some of the Arizona Fire Chiefs Association (AFCA) Executive Board members attended the opening day of the convention. Our intention was to show support from the AFCA for the PFFA and to build relationships. We were also able to visit with some of our local labor leaders in small groups for some really engaging conversations. We were well received, so we decided to make it an annual trip.
Last week I mentioned that we, CAFMA, may have an opportunity to participate in a research study supported by a federal grant. The purpose of the study is to consider different approaches for developing the next generation of firefighters/paramedics/EMTs, as well as preserving our current staff. In short, we’d be challenging everything we ever thought about recruitment and training. Mindblowing stuff, especially in a Fire Service culture that embraces the idea of change – for anyone but us.
We’ve made great strides in the Fire Service in a multitude of different areas, but some still need work. I’d say we continue to be a work in progress, which is not a bad thing, as long as we recognize areas that need work and then put in the work to make the change.
The question we’re asking ourselves today is, do we need to make changes in the way we recruit and train new firefighters? I’m not talking about random changes; I’m talking about strategic changes in our approach based on scientifically based studies in the field.
Think about recruitment and retention. Our motto today is, “Be a firefighter? Yes, you’ll likely get cancer and die, or you’ll definitely end up with a mental or behavioral health issue, but it’s all good!” Great slogan – not…
We need to change our approach altogether. During the academy, are we physically exhausting folks in the morning and then sticking them in a classroom expecting them to learn? Have we screened recruits for baseline resiliency? We need to shift the narrative from the reactionary – “Here’s what’s likely to happen to you,” to “Here’s the great rewards of this career and what we’ve accomplished to mitigate the impacts”.
Our goal is to create the next generation of firefighters that have resiliency built into their initial training. This also means engaging their families before the Partner’s Academy. When should that happen? Sometime midway through the academy? One day only or multiple days? What should be covered? We know what needs to happen, but we don’t know how. That’s where we will need your help and the help of your families.
We have the privilege of working in the best career in the world! That said, we’re not doing a great job of marketing the fire service to the next generation of firefighters. Yes, there are issues that have plagued our profession for years, and yes we were slow to embrace the changes necessary to address things like cancer, mental and/or behavioral health.
We’ve now responded and are creating some very robust cancer prevention programs, as well as engaging counseling services as we work to change the stigma. Now that we’ve started to handle the reactive work that needed to be done, it’s time to start the proactive work e.g., creating programs that build resiliency as a tool early in someone’s career.
If it’s the best career in the world, how do we market ourselves to improve recruitment and retention? It’s not scheduled. It doesn’t seem to matter what schedule people are on, there are those that are not happy. Is it pay? Not from what I’ve seen… There have been people, including me, that have taken significant pay cuts to be part of this profession or to advance our careers. Is it benefits? To a certain extent, maybe.
Think about it… Why are you willing to put your life at risk every day for those you serve, including your fellow firefighters? It’s a higher calling. It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure! For some reason that sounds familiar – maybe a tagline someone already uses as part of their recruitment.
While I’m not on the street every day doing what you’re doing, my calling is to serve every member of CAFMA both Ops and Non-Ops as well as serving our community. There’s satisfaction in trying to secure the best service and benefits for everyone.
So, how do we best create the next generation of folks to serve the Fire Service? That’s a question we will answer together.
On a final note, we received our notice of hearing regarding our CON application on Wednesday. Stay tuned for more as we start the next part of the process.
CAFMA has now introduced The CAFMA Connect Podcast! Get to know the personnel and stay connected to your local fire service agency. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast on their youtube channel at www.youtube.com/channel/UCshgJvK9iKOILA-Z3TEDvVQ.