Fire departments across the west metro are getting creative in recruiting candidates to join them as paid on-call firefighters.
Departments such as Plymouth, Golden Valley and Maple Grove are taking to social media, holding information events and handing out fliers in hopes of attracting as many qualified applicants as possible.
“It’s difficult, we don’t see the interest we had in the past,” said Plymouth Fire Chief Roger Coppa. “The volunteerism is more difficult to come by now. We do notice that.”
Most Minnesota cities mainly use paid on-call firefighters who live or work minutes away from their local fire station. Only a handful of firefighters in most departments are full-time.
In recent years, recruiting for the on-call positions has run up against people’s changing priorities, whether family commitments or careers or both.
George Esbensen, Eden Prairie’s fire chief and director of emergency preparedness, said that 90 percent of Minnesota’s firefighters are part-time who don’t make it a career.
Esbensen, who serves as president of the Minnesota State Fire Chiefs Association, said that many departments have only about 80 percent of the personnel that they can carry.
“There is a such a struggle keeping staffing,” Esbensen said. “It’s a huge statewide issue, nationally as well. The current trend says that this will not get any better.”
So departments now have to be creative to attract the younger generation. And Esbensen says that social media is the way.
“We do very little print media publicity. All of our stuff is social media driven,” he said. “When you are thinking about the younger generation, that’s where they hang out.”
Coppa said his department is making postcards to target specific neighborhoods. To be a paid on-call firefighter in Plymouth, you must live within eight minutes of one of the city’s fire stations.
Golden Valley Battalion Fire Chief Steve Baker said his department has held several informal meetings and open houses for residents to ask current firefighters questions and learn more about the job.
“It’s not a seasonal job,” Baker said. “There’s a lot of commitment. So if someone is interested and talks with our firefighters, then they know what to maybe expect.”
Golden Valley has started using social media by posting memes on the city’s Facebook page.
In one photo posted two weeks ago, a firefighter is holding a large tool over his shoulder with words in bold that read, “I don’t always rip doors off cars, but when I do, it’s to save a life.”
Another photo shows a group of firefighters with the words: “One does not simply fight a fire alone.”
“We have to be more creative in the recruiting process,” Baker said.
Some departments team up with outreach programs, such as the Boy Scouts of America, to attract even younger potential recruits.
“Those are seeds you are planting for many years from now, and hopefully it turns out where they want to do this,” Esbensen said.
Maple Grove Deputy Fire Chief Tim Bush said that many of his colleagues are former Explorer scouts.
“This is something where you are giving back to the community,” Bush said. “It’s a way to help people in your community.”