Prioritizing Firefighter Training

May 19, 2023


There is a national shortage of volunteer firefighters, but a new senate bill proposed in Illinois hopes to encourage more people to complete firefighter training. A recent article shared by the Daily Dispatch discusses how Illinois state employees would be able to take leave from their jobs to attend firefighter training courses. Chiefs Bob Horton and Jeff Buchanan discuss these incentives with organizational psychologist and fire service professional, Dr. Andrew Holter.

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Learn about the benefits and complications of offering a leave of absence from work to prioritize firefighter training in the latest episode of Fire Headlines by WFCA.

Strategies for Recruitment

Not having enough volunteer firefighters is a major concern throughout the United States. Bob considers the Illinois Senate bill innovative in its approach. He notes that Oregon is training National Guard members in firefighting to address the shortage of firefighters in the state. He says, “I think it’s a signal of the times in terms of recruitment challenges that communities are facing, and I think introducing these additional policy incentives are worthy of exploration, although their efficacy, we’re just not sure yet.”

Taking Away from the Labor Market

Jeff is concerned about drawing volunteer firefighters from a labor pool that is stretched already. He notes the impact on businesses and organizations that are unable to hire employees to fill in for staff that take firefighter training leave. Dr. Holter does not believe this leave of absence will draw too many people away from their work. He explains that the bill will not address concerns that employees may have with their workplace or offer enough incentive for large numbers of employees to take this opportunity. 

Some employees may take the leave of absence to alleviate burnout. However, Dr. Holter says, “This would be something very elective and I would hope that any individual in an organization who would be considering something like this would take the time to kind of talk with their manager and help them plan out making this happen, as opposed to just kinda coming in on a Tuesday and saying, ‘Hey, I’m gonna go ahead and take this leave of absence and become a volunteer firefighter.’”

Different Generations in the Workforce

Expanding on the question of workplace incentives, Fire Headlines host Inanna Hencke and Dr. Holter speak briefly about his recent article, which summarizes his research into the different workforce needs that people from different generations need to feel satisfied with their work. Many of the ideas about different generations having unique workplace needs are based in stereotypes. Dr. Holter explains that while society and circumstances change, people adapt to those changes. 

The current labor market is contracting faster than it was after World War II, and this is affecting all workplaces. Dr. Holter says, “There are multiple forces at work that is making it very difficult for us to recruit firefighters currently, and part of that is, […] there’s not people. There’s not people that are coming to work right now.” He sees a need for the emergency service industry to adapt to the new workplace and the needs of the workforce.

You can email Fire Headlines at [email protected].

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