Recruiting Women as Structural Firefighters, Part II: Looking at the Big Picture

A fire department's real recruiting effort, like its public education work, goes on all year round. Volunteer and paid-on-call fire departments, often in constant need of new members, already know this. Consciously or otherwise, a fire department recruits new members and gives out information about itself all the time. A fire chief who takes advantage of the recruitment potential of everything the department does can make its efforts both efficient and productive.

Women and people of color currently on the department should be included in all of the department's public activities. Firefighters self-recruit -- attract more people like themselves -- because of their visibility. If only white men are visible when your department puts out a fire, holds a rescue demonstration or has a press conference, it's primarily white men who will get the message that this is a job for them. Every time your department is in the public eye, and especially when it is being covered by the press, its diversity should be visible.

The fire department's leadership should maintain a consistent commitment to non-sexist attitudes and language. Using and encouraging gender-neutral language by department members and others is an important starting point. If the local newspaper still refers to firefighters as "firemen," a letter to the editor from the fire chief will not only help get the practice stopped but will also demonstrate support for women on the job.

In addition to maximizing the department's public appearances for the benefit of recruitment, specific steps (described below) can be taken to encourage potential candidates to consider and prepare for firefighter jobs. These long-term efforts will produce results over the course of years. Short-term efforts to recruit women can be difficult because many women simply have never considered becoming firefighters; it's a hard decision to make in a short time. The more information about the job you can provide to possible future employees far in advance, the easier it will be to locate and attract good, qualified personnel when you need them.

Vocational counselors. Develop and maintain a good working relationship with high-school guidance counselors and with career-placement personnel and vocational counselors at the colleges and universities in your area. These people can be where you can not: in touch with young people who are making career decisions. Are the counselors in your high schools and colleges encouraging young women to consider fire service careers? Make sure they are aware of your department's interest in hiring women firefighters, and provide supplies of literature, videotapes and other information for them. Invite them to orientation sessions, or hold special sessions for counselors to discuss the ways you and they can work together.

Introductory programs. Explorer posts, job shadow programs, high-school "cadet" programs, ride-alongs for community members, and resident student programs can all be productive ways of recruiting new firefighters who, by the time they complete the program, will be familiar with your department's operations and personnel, and may possess basic firefighter training as well. These are excellent recruitment tools that can be effective at recruiting women if you make sure women are fully included in them and encouraged to participate.

Extended contact with potential candidates. Many traditional elements of a short-term recruitment drive can easily be kept operating year-round. Periodic open houses, practice test sessions and orientation sessions can draw candidates' interest well ahead of test dates, allowing more time for them to develop their strengths and skills or to seek relevant education.

The fire department or personnel department should accept job interest cards at all times, even when a test is not planned. To keep the data base current, these can expire in one or two years, at which time a card is sent out to verify the individual's continued interest. A verification card is also sent out if a hiring process opens up and the person does not apply; those who do apply would automatically be kept on the list for another year or two, unless they are hired.

This article is adapted from material developed by WFS under contract to the Federal Emergency Management Agency's U.S. Fire Administration, and published by FEMA/USFA as Many Faces, One Purpose: A Manager's Handbook on Women in Firefighting. It may be accessed free of charge from our site: Info Packets.




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