I read an article recently about the difficulty local communities are having recruiting firefighters, and it struck me that this is a lot like the difficulty utilities are currently experiencing with regard to succession planning for emergency restoration. In both cases, younger people – especially millennials – do not seem to be especially attracted to these types of positions. The average age of a firefighter in the U.S. is over 40, which is a clear indicator that this is a real issue.
The main reasons for this lack of interest amongst younger people include economic and social factors, as well as an increase in regulatory-mandated firefighter requirements. More specifically, firefighters do not get paid particularly well, and in fact the majority (69%) are volunteers. For the younger generation, the appeal of volunteering is limited because millennials do not have the same kind of affinity for their local communities as previous generations did. Aggravating the issue is the fact that the number of firefighters has declined 12% in the last 30 years, while the population has increased 27% and the frequency of fires has tripled!
One fire lieutenant had a particularly damming synopsis of the issue:
The other problem that we’re seeing is many of our millennials getting into the fire service don’t have a technical background…So by that I mean, take the iPad or the iPhone away from them and they’re not able to do the critical thinking that you need to do as a firefighter.
To address this problem, many communities are creating “cadet” programs that target young kids in an effort to increase their interest in pursuing a firefighting career down the road. These programs generally offer training and mentoring for middle- and high school-age students. Will these mentoring programs help? Only time will tell. Check out this article to learn more about the various programs for future firefighters that are being implemented across the country.