The Changing Roles of Firefighters

The firefighter role isn’t what it used to be. The workload of fire departments has grown substantially, even as their core mission of putting out fires has shifted. Communities tend to lean on the fire service in times of crisis and turn to firefighters for leadership in all aspects of emergency response.

The ever-evolving mission has brought new strains, requiring extensive planning for new dangers such as civil disturbances. With increased call volumes, it requires more personnel at a time when a growing number of agencies are finding it difficult to recruit both career and volunteer firefighters, and to diversify their workforces to include more women and minorities. Financially struggling cities are questioning whether the old system of responding to more call by deploying more firefighters with bigger equipment at more fire stations is sustainable.

Current Demands

The number of fire calls are dwindling as medical emergency calls rise. The growing share of medical emergencies handled by fire departments is a long-developing trend, but departments still struggle to adjust to their changing mission. Meanwhile, their new role as “all-risk, all-hazard” response teams makes them indispensable in disaster planning and mitigation. The more duties stray from fire suppression and rescues, the more difficult it is to train, recruit and retain the workers they need.

Recruiting and retention have grown increasingly difficult because the financial payoffs don’t look as attractive for salaried firefighters as they once did. Departments are having a hard time meeting staffing demands due to the serious recruitment and retention problem for full-time fire departments. Almost every department is seeing a decrease in people testing and applying to be firefighters. This will only get worse as a wave of baby boom firefighters retires over the next several years.

Smaller departments that rely heavily on volunteer firefighters have been dealing with this problem for awhile. The number of volunteers has remained about the same, but call volumes have increased significantly. Small-town residents who might be interested in volunteer fire work are traveling far to get to their regular jobs, leaving less time for volunteering. Many rural fire departments have switched from all volunteers to a mix of volunteers and career firefighters, to have a full-time fire chief take on administrative tasks.

What it All Means

When resources were scarce, fire departments used to be able to state that they aren’t getting what they need and consequences will be dangerous. However, that isn’t working anymore in an era when local governments face tighter budget with a skeptical public that scrutinizes local spending.

People want to make sure local government is accountable. Fire departments must articulate their needs by stressing the challenge to abide by industry standards. Changing the vibrancy of an area should be where we are putting our money and attention. Fire departments need to get involved in these issues now, since cities can’t afford to keep hiring more firefighters and buy more equipment to cover the escalating needs of its growing population.

About Provident Insurance Programs

With roots dating back to 1902, Provident Insurance Programs is an insurance agency that serves paid and volunteer firefighters in addition to emergency medical responders with numerous custom-tailored insurance programs. We’ve also extended our expertise and experience to offer benefit plans and coverages to participant groups as well as Transportation Benefits. We are committed to continuing to provide superior customer service, and would be happy to speak with you to provide further information. Give us a call today at (855) 201-8880 to speak with one of our representatives.

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