As I sit here on Christmas Eve at the firehouse by myself, something dawned on me that has nudged me to make my first ever blog post. I come from a small seaside community in Southeastern Massachusetts and am a Shift Commander and Training Captain in a department that averages 1800 annual responses with a staff of 7 full-time sworn personnel and approximately 55 paid on call sworn personnel. Our department has done a great job of holding on to the combination model and still providing the service our customers deserve. My boss does a great job of creating an atmosphere of inclusion and importance of ALL employees, which is key because this place runs on our on call staff and is just led and orchestrated by the full time personnel. Our biggest challenge comes when trying to staff on holidays, but how has this gotten to this point?
With only 7 full time staff, we rely heavily on our on call members to work paid shifts to perform both dispatching duties as well as staffing first due apparatus. When it comes to holidays we have a hard time staffing, but honestly I cannot find fault with any individual for this. Everybody wants to spend time with their first family on special days and that is critical to maintaining the support of their family when they are inevitably dragged away to be with their second family at the firehouse. I also cannot find fault with the organization because the Chief has to tread lightly on the demands of our on call staff or risk losing their interest or dedication if the burden becomes too heavy. I have come to realize how difficult it is to be in his position and manage a combination department as opposed to an all call/volunteer or full-time one.
I honestly believe that the problem is that generationally demands have changed priorities in our responders’ lives. Before anyone starts throwing bottles at me, allow me to clarify: I am not blaming the “new generation” or any of the other current wars that seem to find their way onto social media frequently. I am convinced that if taught and mentored right, this newest generation of Firefighters is as good as any we have ever seen, they just require a different style of teaching to gain their knowledge and they have different motivators than the previous generations. It is incumbent upon us to adapt and remain progressive. What I am referring to is that there is a ton of data out there that shows a shift in the average age of volunteer and on call members as well as average years of experience and even average length of stay. Because we have seen a shift to people in another age bracket, the demands of their personal life are completely different. Personally I have noticed that even our younger members are marrying and having children sooner, which impacts us greatly by taking members from that vital age group of 18-24 where we see the most participation.
My intent for this blog post is not to inform, but to generate discussion. My effort is not to transition away from our combination model, but to preserve and improve it while meeting the needs of our taxpayers. At the end of the day, it isn’t about us it’s about the customer. For those who are from combination departments, how do you manage this challenge? What do you do to preserve the combination model and still maintain the level of service your customers deserve and expect? I ask these questions because I am proud of my organization and we take our stellar reputation very seriously. Stay safe and bring em all home!