In an exclusive for FIRE magazine, Buckinghamshire's ACO Jason Thelwell looks into changing the way English fire and rescue services recruit firefighters.

Here are some of his thoughts on how to improve firefighter recruitment strategies:

Future Firefighters 

When I want to be an airline pilot, the first step is to go and get myself a pilot's licence, similarly a lorry driver.

If I want to be a doctor, I must study for a medical degree first - why would we not aspire to similar levels of attainment for our own applicants, some of who will be our senior leaders of the future?

The current economic situation presents us all with massive funding challenges, and the future looks somewhat bleak in terms of recruitment of staff.

This situation does however offer us certain opportunities to do things differently in future. One area which is immediately apparent is that of firefighter recruitment.

Quality Applications 

One of my colleagues recently attended an event at the HQ of the Royal Air Force and was intrigued by their approach to recruitment in these austere times.

He was made aware that they have more than 15,000 successful applicants online waiting to be processed and that they would not now be able to recruit them all. Their solution is to apply more rigorous entry standard (or, more correctly, their application to applicants) to take the very best quality people on the list.

It struck us that this approach is likely to be replicated in almost all sectors with the notable exception of our own.

Selection Strategies  

The fact that Fire and Rescue Services are likely to undertake very low recruitment levels for the next few years gives us an opportunity to rethink the recruitment and selection strategies we employ.

Essentially, I propose that we move to a system whereby we no longer recruit untrained, and often unskilled trainees and that we seek to create a system whereby applicants will possess some form of prior pre-qualification and skills at the point of employment.

Knowledge Gap 

I, and many colleagues often mourn the loss of understanding amongst firefighters as to how buildings are constructed (and therefore how they may behave when ablaze) and practical firemanship (as it was once commonly referred to) no longer seems to feature in any development programmes - this presents a risk to authorities.

Apprenticeship Schemes 

One may reasonably ask - where will these people gain such qualifications and how would they be quality assured?

The recent adoption of firefighters' occupational standards within the Justice Sector Skills Council highlights the real potential for a National Apprenticeship of some sort and colleges will move quickly to establish such courses with National Apprenticeship support and the prospect of real jobs awaiting successful students.

Investing in Future Firefighters 

This proposal is not solely about shifting risk - it is about shifting costs and responsibility for basic personal development away from employers and towards potential employees prior to their application.

Recruitment and basic training of firefighters represents a massive early investment for a long-term pay off and this proposal should lower the initial cost whilst at the same time reducing the pay-off period.

It also has the added advantage of 'raising the bar' in terms of quality of applicants.

This idea is raw, and in the conceptual stage, and would require a massive shift in emphasis. The practical challenges in establishment of the system are not underestimated but there are real opportunities


Read his article in full in the new edition of FIRE magazine, out soon.

Posted on September 23 2011 at 1700 by Richard. Comment by emailing: