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The Qualities of Outstanding First Responder Candidates

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By Randall Hanifen
Contributor, EDM Digest

In a recent interview I conducted, the candidate mentioned his excitement about working for our organization, as opposed to his current organization, due to the financial differences in the two communities. While I don’t deny that my company is part of a community that has great financial resources, I explained to him that it is the people that define an organization, not the money. But what are the biggest qualities you should look for in a first responder candidate?

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Hiring a Outstanding First Responder Starts with Aligned Values

If your organization seeks to provide a high level of customer service, your candidate must see this value as important. Otherwise, you will likely not have great success with that hire, regardless of his or her skill level.

While almost everyone that interviews for a public safety position tells you they enjoy the service aspect of giving back to the community, the actions and attitude that they demonstrate each day may tell you that they do not prioritize this part of the job.

For instance, some first responders believe the emergency services are a monopoly and that people should be happy to see us regardless. While it is true in a business sense, the public can change out the leadership of the monopoly very easily through their votes. The top executive is inevitably the person the community replaces.

Engaged Employees Are Vital to First Responders’ Success

The biggest factor of anyone’s job success is engagement. Some people tend to engage more at various aspects of life. When you’re hiring, do prospective employees talk more about their accomplishments in the profession or about where they are headed on vacation?

We all need work/life balance. But if you focus on your days off and not on what you contribute to the organization, your engagement is not with the organization.

Similarly, if you only show up every third day and provide the minimum level of effort, please find another first responder organization for hanging out. We need personnel who want to acquire more training, contribute to policies, and maintain the equipment and facilities that make our services possible.

Make Sure New Hires Value Teamwork

With the advent of smartphones and video games, social isolation has become an issue. Emergency services, particularly the fire department, need to find ways to combat that social isolation.

While not all crews will be the best of friends, the basic premise of a fire company is teamwork. Crew resource management was popular in the 1990s and is making a comeback.

Crews must know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and make the best use of their personnel to solve whatever problem they are dispatched to fix. Knowing strengths and weaknesses can only occur if the crew spends time together and are social. Conversations and impromptu trainings around the kitchen table are what build this capability.

Job Candidates Should Also Believe in the Organization and Be Advocates

Some employees are proud to tell people where they work and others complain, no matter what. Your best recruiting tools for new hires are the employees who work in your organization.

Unless you are in an organization that has strict civil service hiring requirements, prospective employees are likely to be friends and acquaintances of your current employees. Others may hear about your organization and reach out to any current employees to see if they want to work for you.

If your current employees share their satisfaction with the job on social media, you are much more likely to attract other high-quality employees. Everyone goes through phases based on what has happened to them in the organization, such as being passed over for promotion or having to do mandated overtime on Christmas. But in general, people have the same attitude and connection to an organization throughout their careers.

No amount of money can buy a fire station or fire truck that solves a community’s emergencies without quality firefighters on that fire truck to perform the work. That work is commensurate with the dedication, training and teamwork of the firefighters on the fire truck. Hire great people, and you will have a great organization.

Dr. Randall Hanifen serves as a shift commander at a medium-sized suburban fire department in the northern part of the Cincinnati area. Randall is the CEO/principal consultant of an emergency services consulting firm, providing analysis and solutions related to organizational structuring of fire and EMS organizations. He is the chairperson and operations manager for a county technical rescue team. From a state and national perspective, he serves as a taskforce leader for one of FEMA's urban search and rescue teams, which responds to presidential declared disasters. From an academic standpoint, Randall has a bachelor’s degree in fire administration, a master’s degree in executive fire service leadership, and a doctoral degree in business administration with a specialization in homeland security. He is the associate author of “Disaster Planning and Control” (Penwell, 2009), which provides first responders with guidance through all types of disasters.

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