The recent defense verdict in Connecticut (Ultegra LLC v. Mystic Fire District No. 3:09-cv-01284 (MPS)) brings to light the need to evaluate your fire departments hiring process used in bringing a new candidate into your organization. There are numerous ways to recruit and hire a qualified volunteer or career firefighter ranging from legacy hiring (a family member nominates the candidate and they are voted in) to a comprehensive hiring process starting with an written application inclusive of a comprehensive testing and evaluation process. With the reported decrease in the reduction of individuals volunteering for all types of organizations needing volunteers, hiring a firefighter is a complicated process. Volunteer fire departments have greater difficulty because of the difficulties in attracting, recruiting and retaining volunteer firefighters. Based on distressing statistics of problems arising from troubled firefighters that include substance abuse, domestic violence and arson, a department looking for qualified firefighters needs to look at the background and character of the candidate who shows up at the fire station door before they become a member of your organization. The department regardless of career or volunteer status must employ a comprehensive approach in recruiting, hiring, and retaining volunteer and career firefighters. Doing nothing and bringing a member into a department does not fulfill the obligation and responsibility of a fire department to ensure the best qualified candidates become a member of a department and maintaining the fragile public trust.
A comprehensive and effective hiring process utilized by many volunteer and career firefighters includes many of the principles of hiring below:
Active and communitywide recruitment of potential candidates
Formal written application process
Comprehensive background check
Job-related physical ability test
Psychological evaluation by a qualified psychologist
Recruit academy or fire training comparable to an Academy where the firefighter attains FFI and FF II qualifications
Ongoing performance and compatibility evaluation system
Understanding that many volunteer fire departments may not have the resources to accomplish all of the elements of the suggested process, hiring a firefighter can be as simple as requiring a candidate to complete a comprehensive application (showing name and address, education, employment history and any prior convictions or felonies), have the candidate sign a release so the department can conduct a background check, conducting an oral interview and performing a background check. The final step in the hiring process must include close supervision of the new firefighter candidate when you bring them into your department.
“Hiring right” is a buzz word used in many corporate entities and should be a “buzz word” and practice adopted by the fire service: it will pay off in the long term.