Recruiting and Training the Millennial Firefighter

Fire departments have an advantage when it comes to recruiting millennials since the work is challenging, meaningful, and requires close teamwork.

December 29, 2020

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Millennials, roughly defined as those born between 1982 and 2000, are now the largest generation in the workforce. And it looks like they will be for quite some time.

In fact, by 2025, millennials will occupy 75% of the workforce.

For this reason, now is a great time to think about how to recruit and train millennial firefighters.

According to Gallup, “Leaders are increasingly turning their attention to the millennial generation, whose attitudes and preferences may profoundly reshape workplaces and society.”

The good news is, appealing to millennials may be easier than you would expect.

You may not know it, but fire departments actually have an advantage when it comes to recruiting and retaining this generation. Working in the fire service is challenging, meaningful, somewhat flexible and requires close teamwork – some of the top qualifications millennials look for in a career.

More than other generations, millennials are smart, tech savvy, collaborative, and want to help others, which can make them wonderful firefighters.

However, many millennials may not even think of the fire service as an option. Fire departments need to change tactics to draw in and keep millennial firefighter recruits.

Are you ready to invest in the next generation? Here are a few suggestions for recruiting millennial firefighters.

Invest in online engagement

Studies show that millennials get most of their news and information from social media.

A 2016 Gallup poll demonstrates that as of 91% of millennials own a smartphone. Along those lines, 71% of millennials say the Internet is their main source for news and information.

This, of course, includes looking for jobs online.

What does this mean for you?

Along with doing community recruitment events, fire departments need to make themselves visible online. Departments can use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media sites to connect with millennials.

For example, you could find creative ways to show what firefighters do or highlight department and individual accomplishments. You could also advertise the benefits of firefighting and let millennials know how they can join the fire service.

Departments should also keep their websites updated, have an online application process and offer online training when possible.

Cultivate an inclusive work culture

Nothing matters more to millennials than relationships, even at work.

Millennials are team-oriented and want to have healthy relationships with their coworkers and superiors. They don’t appreciate being hazed or made to “wait their turn” or “pay their dues” before being included as part of the crew.

Departments should create policies that foster a respectful, inclusive environment from the start. It is also important to allow space for millennials to ask questions and share their input.

Commanders should encourage group dinners on shift, group volunteer opportunities and hangouts outside of work. Departments may also want to consider starting a mentorship program, where experienced firefighters can give millennial recruits advice and feedback.


Be open-minded about change

Appealing to millennials may mean changing the way you do things. Being progressive and open-minded is a core value for this generation, according to Gallup, and the workplace is no exception.

“Millennials are pushing for change in the world – including in the marketplace and the workplace. They don't accept ‘that's the way it has always been done’ as a viable answer. Millennials demand that businesses approach them differently and adjust the customer experience to meet their needs.”

Of course, you don’t want to compromise any core values or policies just to impress potential recruits. However, you can use their perspective to help your department.

Looking for new ways to do things can’t hurt – in fact, it may improve operations. You may want to look for more efficient ways to communicate your policies or train your firefighters, for example.

Highlight perks and advancement opportunities

Like anyone else, millennials will be interested in the perks of a job. Potential recruits may not know about the many benefits the fire service can offer, such as the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF) and public service scholarship programs.

Even if a department is just looking to recruit millennial volunteers, they should highlight all the different benefits and specialized skills fire training brings.

But the initial benefits only go so far. Gallup polls show that millennials are more likely than other generations to switch jobs or look for new opportunities. Try to keep this in mind.

Millennials won’t stay with a department for the long-term if they don’t feel appreciated and challenged. They want to feel like their hard work is getting them somewhere, both personally and in their careers.

For this reason, it’s important to focus on providing positive opportunities for millennial firefighters. You can start by creating recognition programs to reward hard work.


You could also highlight options for ongoing specialized training and make clear the expectations and opportunities for advancement.

When your millennial firefighters have a specific goal in mind, they will be more likely to perform with excellence. Fortunately, this benefits everyone.

Give constructive feedback whenever possible

Millennials value communication and connection, even if it means having difficult conversations. For them, personal growth is a path toward personal success.

In a 2014 global survey by SuccessFactors and Oxford Economics, 1,400 millennials admitted they wanted more feedback from their managers, ideally on a monthly basis. However, only 46% of interviewees agreed their managers gave them the feedback they wanted.

It’s up to you as a leader in your organization to bridge the gap.

While communication, in general, is a powerful tool in the workplace, millennials specifically desire constructive criticism for the sake of career momentum.

In an interview with the Harvard Business Review, one anonymous millennial shared, “I would like to move ahead in my career. And to do that, it’s very important to be in touch with my manager, constantly getting coaching and feedback from him so that I can be more efficient and proficient.”

Share the meaningful parts of the job

While the media perpetuates the idea that millennials want financial success above all else, surveys demonstrate otherwise.

According to Fast Company, millennials are looking for meaning and purpose in their jobs. Studies show 90% of millennials want to use their work for good.

And contrary to stereotypes, they are willing to compromise on salary for a satisfying job. More than 50% of millennials would take a pay cut to find work that matches their values.

It’s probably no surprise to you that firefighting is a rewarding career. The majority of those in the fire service agree.


Surveys demonstrate that most firefighters are satisfied in their careers 80% of the time. And for good reason: as a public servant, you have the privilege of saving lives and increasing safety in your community.

If you want to focus on recruiting millennials, show them why serving as a firefighter is both rewarding and meaningful. Share personal stories about why you enjoy your work and how it has impacted your life positively.

Just as importantly, illustrate how your career has helped those in need and brought positive social change.

Invest in your department

By sharing with millennial recruits how a firefighting job can benefit them and those with whom they work, you are investing in your department.

As you now know, millennials value meaningful work, teamwork, and growth. And they are willing to work hard for causes they believe in. These qualities can make millennials committed, capable firefighters.

If departments will invest in drawing in and keeping millennials, they could be wonderful fire chiefs in the future.

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