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The Qualities of an Outstanding First Responder Candidate

The Qualities of an Outstanding First Responder Candidate

Start a emergency and disaster management degree at American Military University.

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared on EDM Digest.

By Dr. Randall HanifenFaculty Member, Emergency & Disaster Management at American Military University 

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?

Hiring an 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.

[Related: Hiring for Character and Competency in the Fire Service]

While almost everyone who interviews for a public safety position tells you they enjoy the service aspect of giving back to the community, the actions and attitude a candidate demonstrates 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, does a candidate 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.

[Related: Why There Is a Leadership Vacuum in Many Fire Departments]

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.

[Podcast: Discussing Mental Health Issues in the Firehouse]

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.

A Candidate Should Believe in the Organization and Be an Advocate

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.

candidateAbout the Author: Dr. Randall W. Hanifen is a shift commander at a medium-sized suburban fire department in the northern part of the Cincinnati area and a fire service consultant. He is also a faculty member at American Military University, teaching courses in its Emergency & Disaster Management program. He has a B.S. in Fire Administration, a M.S. in Fire Service Executive Leadership, and a Ph.D. in Executive Management of Homeland Security. He is the associate author of Disaster Planning and Control. Randall serves as the Executive Chairperson of a County Technical Rescue Team, a Taskforce Leader for FEMA’s Ohio Task Force 1 US&R team, and is the Vice-Chair of IAFC Company Officers Section. He serves as a member of NFPA 1021 Fire Officer and NFPA 1026 Incident Management committees He is credentialed as a Fire Officer by the Center for Public Safety Excellence and has been accepted as a Fellow to the Institute of Fire Engineers. Randall has provided presentations and trainings for the Ohio Fire Chief’s Association, Fire Rescue International, Emergency Management Institute, and the IAFC Board of Directors. To contact the author, send an email to IPSauthor@apus.edu. For more articles featuring insight from industry experts, subscribe to In Public Safety’s bi-monthly newsletter.


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