Role Models for Recruiting, Hiring and Retaining the Right People

By:  Robert Avsec

OK, so here’s the rest of that conversation that I had with Firefighter Alonzo Dodson many years ago when we both worked for Chesterfield County (VA) Fire and EMS.  This is the second part of what was a long conversation where  I was encouraging Firefighter Dodson to pursue advancement to the rank of Lieutenant, our Company Officer rank.  Eventually, our conversation “got around to” what would be effective strategies for increasing the number of men and women of color in CFEMS.

Alonzo brought up a very good point in that people are more likely to want to work in an organization where there are people who “look like them”, i.e., other people of color, nationality, ethnicity and gender.  I agreed with that and added to it by saying, “More importantly, people both inside and outside the department must see those same folks in leadership and management positions.  (At the time our own organization of 300+ full-time uniformed employees had less than 5 percent of its leadership positions filled with men or women of color.  None were above the rank of Captain).

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Think it’s not important to your efforts to recruit, hire and retain the right people?  Here’s an Fire Prevention Demoanecdote from one of my fire service colleagues on Facebook, Firefighter Irene Silknetter Fitzkee, from Lancaster, Pennsylvania:

At our second fire prevention presentation today, another female from my station presented the usual program of exit drills, etc., and had Ray gear up and explain what our gear does and to not be afraid. We broke them [the group of 50 students] in half with one group touring the engine and the other the truck. Jen and I were doing the truck.

This girl raised her hand with a sad face. Jen asked what her question was. She asked, “Why do only the boys get masks?” referring to Ray’s face piece. I quickly said that girls get them too. I have one. Jen said I have one. She smiled. I went to get mine off the truck and show her. She had a huge smile on her face.

When Jen showed the steps to get to the bucket of the tower a boy said, “That looks scary.”  This little girl with a huge smile on her face said, “That looks like fun,” with a little giggle at the end.  When we showed [them] the saw compartment and talked about cutting a hole in the roof, this girl said, “Oh cool!”

At the end of the truck tour, I showed her my pink hood and pink helmet band. She smiled. It turns out, her favorite color is pink.  A future Truckie?  Maybe. She made my day. I can’t stop thinking about her and smiling…This little girl reminded me of myself when I was a little girl.  She reminded me of why I am where I am.

Pretty cool, right?  Just as importantly, the little girls—and boys—in your community, regardless of the color of their skin, need to see that “people who look like them” are also capable of “running the show”.

Woman Officers

This photo is from another Facebook Friend in the fire service, Captain Janet Cowan (Dallas FD, Truck 43).  Here’s the caption that she included:

1941 hours … Second fire!  BTW, we only take pics after the fire is out and before the arson investigator arrives on scene so we can switch to overhaul. But catch the importance of this pic… Female Captain and Female Lieutenant… Both from the same house! Yep… First time in Dallas history that two females have run a station together and at a busy house nonetheless!!! Going strong for 3 years together! Whoop whoop!


So who do your prospective members see when you and your people are in the public eye?


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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, [email protected].