Recruitment Remains a Priority During Pandemic

By Shane M. Liebler, Senior Editor

The pandemic has added some hurdles in the already-difficult area of recruitment. But, even as we battle COVID challenges, there are ways departments can focus efforts to get through to key groups.

Departments are discovering a whole new population to tap into: those working from home and college students remote learning. These are two groups with tons of potential as they not only have more time on their hands … they want to help.

“It is another outlet where we can at least put our feelers out there to try and hook some people who maybe didn’t give us a look before because they were just too busy,” says Ken Brown, Chairman of the National Volunteer Fire Council’s Recruitment and Retention Committee. “I definitely wouldn’t discount [work-from-home] as an area to look into.”

Some of these work-from-home jobs might offer flexibility to answer calls during the day, a timeframe that challenges many departments. At Syosset Fire Department on Long Island, some work-from-home members even opted to pack up the laptop and work from the fire department during the day. At the least, people have had their commutes cut out, freeing up time for training classes that might not have existed before.

“I think the most interesting thing we saw specifically in Syosset was in our end of year recruit class, there were six people joining: one was a transfer from another fire department, the remaining five were all college students at out-of-town schools learning remotely from home,” says Syosset FD Assistant Chief Rob Leonard, Chair of FASNY’s Public Relations Committee.

“Work-from-home and college students are another outlet to try and hook some people who maybe didn’t give us a look before because they were just too busy.”

It highlights the importance of getting into high schools. FASNY developed its High School Recruitment Tool Kit that includes a multimedia Powerpoint presentation, tips and brochures.

These trends are gaining traction in departments beyond New York State’s borders as well.

“Time and the opportunity to answer day calls working from home has changed the game,” says Chief Mike Reddy of the Fair Haven, New Jersey, Fire Department.

His department has added seven recruits over the last year and he believes availability is part of the reason. His district sits about an hour outside of New York City, where many spend hours commuting to and from. Recruitment has always been tough due to people’s time constraints. Those, of course, have dissolved as work-from-home becomes the norm. The pandemic has influenced people in other ways though, Reddy says.

“I think the pandemic has allowed some to reflect on themselves and their communities,” he says. “I feel that people wanted to be a part of the solution.”

Regardless of which groups you target with recruitment efforts, that kind of awareness should be the ultimate goal, Brown says.

“The pandemic doesn’t mean there’s not a place to be able to say,‘If you have some time to give and you want to help your community, we’re here.’”

“I think it has raised the awareness of the people in the community of what first responders put themselves out there for,” he says. “It may not give us more members, but it gives us recognition.

“We should always be looking to find something we are doing in a positive manner when things are going badly,” Brown says. “If you have something happening at the local level, we should be promoting what we do there.”

It’s important to keep in mind departments don’t have the same public exposure they used to with in-person events like open houses. Pick your groups and get creative. FASNY recently developed numerous tutorials and materials to help keep up recruitment in an increasingly virtual world.

“Recruiting needs to be a 365-day-a-year process and recruiting needs to be when times are good and times are bad,” Leonard says. “There are much more important challenges facing families in our State and across the country during the pandemic.

“However, it doesn’t mean there’s not a place to be able to say, ‘If you have some time to give and you want to help your community, we’re here,’” he says.