Volunteer Vision: The importance of the interview
March 27, 2023 By Tom DeSorcy
On more than one occasion I’ve spoken about recruitment when it comes to the volunteer fire service. While I’d be interested to know more about how some fire departments go about it, I’m quite sure it’s changed a lot over the years.
Are we actively going out and selling the service to bring in new people? What’s really missing when it comes to the recruitment issue? Is the actual process bringing people into the fire department?
On a recent Fire Fighting in Canada podcast, I had a great conversation on the interview process when it comes to the career side, and it made me think about the onboarding or recruitment of firefighters when it comes to them actually signing up and wanting to be part of the team. The recruitment is done, now we need to ensure they are right for the position. So, how do you conduct an interview for a volunteer firefighter? Is it still the same from the old days when you just took their phone number and said show up at the fire hall? I would like to think that today there is that process that takes place. It’s important if you don’t know the individual to find out more about them. You really need to ensure that the individual you are bringing on board is the right fit for the organization.
When it comes to the interview for a volunteer firefighter, are you actually treating it like a job interview? Obviously there are certain regulatory issues that need to be dealt with but I’d be curious to know how those interviews go. Are the applicants surprised? Are they comfortable doing them? If not, then that’s too bad.
I’ve personally heard the criticism about turning some people away but for good reason. What other position, volunteer or otherwise, will you change a person’s life or their perception in the community instantly? When you are accepted, you automatically take on a certain responsibility and are recognized as a leader and a hero. That is a huge level of expectation that most aren’t ready for.
Today, we take great lengths to limit a recruit’s exposure at calls. There is a certain time span that they must be identified as a rookie. The public, however, doesn’t see that. They don’t see the fact that the experience may not be there. They see the fire truck, the firefighters, the gear and the equipment, and they assume that you are there to help them in their time of need. Is this brought forward in the interview?
Whenever I interview a person, that wants to join and be a member, I always make the comment that their life is about to change.
It’s about full disclosure and ensuring that every person who applies and wants to be a member of the volunteer fire service knows exactly what they’re getting themselves into. During the hiring process for career firefighters, a lot of the fire departments employ psychological assessments or methods to ensure they’re bringing on the right people. A volunteer fire department may not be able to due to financial constraints, however, we have to be very diligent in the way we prepare people.
Gone is the day that the person who could simply “fog up a mirror” and be welcomed into the fire department just like that. Making sure they are aware of the real world of fire fighting is our responsibility.
They need to know about the family that they’re joining. They need to know how their own family could be impacted and they need to know the steps that we’re going to take to protect them and make sure they go home after every call.
Hopefully during this process, a firefighter applicant not only feels welcome to join the department but has a better understanding of just what it is they are getting involved with. This is proper preparation and making sure that you don’t spend valuable time and budget dollars to bring a person into the organization that really is not suited for what they’re getting into.
This goes back to a previous column where I spoke of the sales pitch that we have to do in the fire service. That’s the recruitment part. Now we have to take it a step further.
As many more volunteer departments understand their “entry level” role into the fire service, today’s interview of new members might well be setting them on their way to a full-time career and we owe it to them to make sure they’re not disappointed or set up for failure.
Tom DeSorcy joined the fire service in 1983 and became the first paid firefighter in his hometown of Hope, B.C., when he became fire chief in 2000, retiring in 2023. DeSorcy is married with children and grandchildren. He is equally at home at a bonspiel, on the golf course, or in the kitchen, and continues to enjoy his connections to the fire service. E-mail Tom at email@example.com and watch for him on social media.
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