When hiring a new firefighter, it is important for fire department leaders to have a set of standards and criteria. After all, every candidate hired is a direct reflection on the department. Deputy Chief of Phoenix Fire Department Jeff Case recently sat down with TargetSolutions to discuss the hiring process and how an agency can develop the future of firefighters.
What tips would you provide fire department leaders on how to prepare their organization for success when it comes to hiring new members?
First of all, we talk a lot about making sure who we hire represents what a firefighter really is today. Making sure we don’t simply glamorize the position, and market the fire aspect of it.
Again, that is a critical and absolutely necessary component of what you hire. Someone that can go into a burning building, rip through things, and has that aggressiveness about them or toughness about them, means they can do the most difficult part of what we do, which is fight fire. But we must also realize that a person has to have components of compassion, nurse characteristics, counselor characteristics, humanitarian characteristics, have construction knowledge, etc.
So it is the total package we really need for a firefighter to be successful, and also to be happy. I mean if you hire somebody based on the premise they are going to come to work and three times a day they are going to fight intense fires, they are going to be very unhappy in this profession because that is not a typical day.
It is a challenge to find the right mix of personalities and not just look for that single toughness component, but recognize it is a total package.
What is something fire department leaders might not consider when making a hire?
Recognizing you need to be very careful about who you hire because you are probably not going to change them. You can train them, you can teach them, you can talk about your philosophies, but the general core essence of who a person is when you hire them at age 20 to 27 is already established. Their core personality, their core behaviors, and their core values are set by that point. And so, something we talk about is recognizing people’s strengths, and recognizing those are the things that are going to determine your ability to have them be successful and happy in their career.
We spend a lot of time talking about how to develop people’s career toward those strengths because we do need all types of personalities on our fire trucks.
Also, making sure that they are going to be happy because if you sell the job to people based upon this hero mentality, and that is what they expect to do every day – these extreme, dangerous, and hard things – they are going to be disappointed. So it is great they have the ability to respond well when that is the call and that is what they need to do, but they also need to be happy, content, and enjoy all the other 90 percent of what we do most of the time.
In your experience, are there any secrets or keys to finding the right employees? What do you look for that others should consider?
I do not know that there is any magic pill or series of things, but I think it is important to create a process. A process that allows you to get to know people better than a 20-minute interview where we ask three to four questions in which they are absolutely scripted coming in – if they are at all prepared as a candidate through classes and mock interviews and everything else. You do not want to be fooled by some of these pre-planned answers and set questions, and all of a sudden assume you know that person.
So I think relationships with the community colleges, mentorship programs, cadet programs, or volunteer opportunities where you get to see people in real settings are important. Inviting prospects into your fire stations, encouraging ride-alongs, and talking to people that interact with these people. Because it is in that element where both their positive and/or negative ones will be seen. So you have to create those opportunities.
We have firefighter one-on-two academies, we work with the community colleges, and we stay in close communication with them. The ongoing challenge you are going to have is looking out for people that we are associated with – friends and family. Not that it is a bad thing, but we have to make sure that our members do not encourage or falsely represent people as being good potential firefighters when they are really just a friend and they do not have the qualities, attributes, or characteristics you are looking for. We need to protect against that and make sure our members know who they bring in either strengthens or weakens the organization one person at a time.
So it is important to make sure all of those elements are as pure as possible. No process will ever be perfect. However, with families where a family member meets those criteria, then it should absolutely be encouraged. But do not bring someone in just because they are family or friends that do not meet the criteria you are looking for.
About the Author
Deputy Chief Jeff Case serves as a Shift Commander on the Phoenix Fire Department. As a Shift Commander he helps administrate the department’s Command Training Center and the management of Fire, Medical and Special Operation responses. Chief Case helped design and run Mesa Community College’s (MCC) Virtual Incident Command Center. Faculty member MCC, and adjunct instructor with TEEX’s WMD/EMS response program. Bachelor’s degree, Fire Service Management and a Master’s degree in Education.
Bio and photo of Jeff Case are courtesy of Firehouse.com.