Musings about firefighter recruitment and retention

By: Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer

Firefighter recruitment. One of those topics that’s like the weather: everyone is talking about it, but nobody is doing anything about it. What fire department out there–career, combination, all-volunteer–doesn’t have a tough “row to how” when it comes to finding and retaining good people?

I’m seeing more postings on social media platforms, e.g., Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, promoting firefighter employment opportunities in various locations around the USA and Canada. That’s a good thing, for sure, because if people don’t even know about the opportunities that are out there…but I don’t think that using social media to promote job announcements is any kind of “silver bullet” for fire service organizations looking to attract quality people to their “tribe.”

Looking back over my past blogging posts I’ve written about recruitment and retention a couple of times…I thought some of you might benefit for a bit of “refresher reading” on the topic.

Why did you want to become a Firefighter?

That question has been around for generations, no? As leaders in Fire and EMS organizations, do we truly know the answer for ourselves and others in our organizations? If we are to continue to recruit and training and retain the individuals necessary to adequately staff our organizations in the coming years, perhaps we would be better served to ponder the question.

A couple of years back I wrote a piece entitled Want More Women for Your Fire Department? and the “teaser paragraph” was this:

So perhaps you need to focus those recruiting efforts at youth sporting events for girls, and young girls at that. Because by the time they reach college-age they’ve already got that “mental picture” of what kinds of careers are for women—and that picture probably doesn’t include them wearing turnout gear.

Here are a couple of comments that I received after that post:

RecruitNY 2019 is April 27-28! Sign up for one of the largest and most successful volunteer first responder recruitment weekends in the country! Don’t miss this opportunity to grow your department and inform the community about the valuable services we provide. For more info visit:

“School cadet programs are another means of increasing diversity. Not only do they help inform young people about fire service careers, they can help the cadets address any deficiencies such as physical fitness, etc.”—Pat Coughlin, Fire Protection Engineer

“I agree (and attended a cadet class ten years ago)! I didn’t even know that there were paid fire departments until I was a junior in high school. It wasn’t until a friend suggested it to me that I realized what a great fit firefighting could be (she came from a firefighting family and was an explorer in another county. After going to the Tech Center for certifications, then volunteering a few years, I got hired and have been working for my county for 7 years. If not for my friend suggesting it to me, I might never have discovering this fun, challenging, and rewarding job.”—A.C. Knotts

Thoughts on Firefighter Recruitment Media

The job market, depending upon where your department is located, has become very competitive–for the employers. For volunteer departments, their very survival is dependent upon their ability to recruit new members to maintain their ability to provide services.

How good is your recruitment media? Is it getting the attention of potential firefighters and creating a desire to “use” your product? Creating that desire is a key tenant of marketing whether you’re selling soap or an opportunity to serve your community as a volunteer or career firefighter.

Transition for the Future of Fire and EMS was written by one of most popular guest bloggers, Susanna Schmidt-Williams, Fire Chief for the Carrboro (NC) Fire Department. The Chief wrote:

“My profession is currently going through an evolution. It was once perceived as, and sometimes unfortunately still is viewed as, a stereotypical “blue collar” job. The impression being that all it entails for one to be successful is that you be a “chest beating, knuckle dragging” Neanderthal. Nothing could be further from the truth these days.”

I know it’s really cold in some places in the U.S. right now, but summer is not that far away and in many parts of the U.S. and Canada that means fire camps for girls and young women. In The Fire Camp for Girls Experience, I interviewed two fire campers Julie Thibodeau and Cassandra “Cassie” Schambach, about their experience.

Camp FFIT gives real fire service experience to young women in Ontario. For this piece, I had the opportunity to speak with one of the founders of Camp FFIT, a summer firefighter camp for young women in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Camp FFIT just completed its 9th year in August of 2018. The camp, which accepts 24 campers per year, began in 2010 through the efforts of many people, none more so its founders Carisa Campbell-Darmody, Sue Jones, and Louise Hines-Schmidt.


About Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer

Battalion Chief (Ret.) Robert Avsec served with the men and women of the Chesterfield County (VA) Fire and EMS Department for 26 years. He’s now using his acquired knowledge, skills, and experiences as a freelance writer for and as the “blogger in chief” for this blog. Chief Avsec makes his home in Cross Lanes, WV. Contact him via e-mail,