All About EMS And Fire Department Staffing Shortages

By: Curtis Thomas, API Developer, Emergent

In 2022, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) estimated there to be a little over 1 million career and volunteer firefighters in the world. Year after year, fire departments and EMS agencies are seeing that number continue to drop as internal and external factors affect departments and cause a growing concern for overall staffing shortages.

Where is Public Safety Staffing Now Compared to the Past?

In recent years, fire department staffing levels have dwindled to levels not seen in decades. Traditionally, fire departments have been staffed by a mix of career firefighters and volunteers. However, with changing societal dynamics and increased demands on fire services, maintaining adequate staffing levels has been a trend the industry continues to struggle with.

Factors like budget constraints, increasing demands for services, attracting younger generations of firefighters, and rising wages have all contributed to this downward trend. As a result, both EMS agencies and fire departments are stretched thin, with fewer personnel available to respond to emergencies.

Why Are Agencies Facing Staffing Shortages?

  • Budget Constraints: One of the primary factors contributing to staffing shortages is budget constraints. Many municipalities are grappling with limited financial resources, forcing them to make tough decisions about where to allocate funding. As populations grow and evolve, the demand for fire services only continues to rise. Fire departments have traditionally struggled with vendor locking, which is when a department becomes heavily reliant on a particular vendor for essential services, equipment, or technology. Not only does this often stifle options for the needs of the department and increase costs over time, but it also sets limits on collaborative sharing across departments. 
  • Increasing Demand for a Younger Generation of Firefighters: Now that Millennials make up nearly half of the full-time workforce, it is crucial for fire departments to recruit firefighters in this age range. However, understanding the needs of this generation in terms of what they are looking for in their careers poses a challenge. Millennial workers want work-life balance, emotional and physical wellbeing, and a diverse and inclusive workplace. Because of these needs, the younger generation is also more apt to have an interest in a career in technology than public safety.
  • Rising Wages and Competitive Pay: In recent years, there has been a significant increase in the cost of living, including housing, healthcare, and other essentials. As a result, many firefighters are demanding higher wages to support themselves and their families. However, budget constraints make it difficult for departments to offer competitive salaries, leading to difficulties in recruiting and retaining qualified personnel.

What are Departments Doing to Improve Hiring and Retention?

Understanding the growing reality of the need for firefighters worldwide, fire departments and EMS agencies are implementing various strategies to address staffing shortages and enhance recruitment and retention efforts, which include:

  • Outreach and Recruitment Campaigns: Agencies and departments are actively engaging with communities through recruitment events, job fairs, and social media campaigns to attract a diverse pool of candidates. These efforts aim to raise awareness about the rewarding and impactful nature of firefighting careers. Agencies and Departments should place emphasis on recruiting targeted at the younger generation and understand this generation’s unique and current work needs.

  • Enhanced Training and Development: Investing in comprehensive training programs and professional development opportunities is essential for attracting and retaining talented firefighters. By offering ongoing training in specialized areas such as hazardous materials response, technical rescue, and emergency medical services, EMS agencies and fire departments can equip their personnel with the skills needed to excel in their roles

  • Incentive programs: To incentivize recruitment and retention, many agencies and departments are offering attractive benefits packages, including competitive salaries, healthcare coverage, retirement plans, and tuition reimbursement programs. These incentives help offset the challenges associated with the demanding nature of firefighting and contribute to higher job satisfaction and morale among personnel.

Staffing shortages facing EMS agencies and fire departments across the world represent a critical challenge that requires immediate and ongoing action. By addressing the underlying causes of these shortages, implementing innovative recruitment and retention strategies, and prioritizing investments in training and development, both agencies and departments can strengthen their capabilities and continue to fulfill their vital mission of protecting lives and property.

At Emergent, we're working directly with teams in the EMS and fire space to better understand how our technologies can relieve some of the stressors of the job. At the end of the day, first responders are on the job to provide care and serve their communities. It's our goal to provide them with the tools they need to more efficiently do their jobs and have more time to do what they love most about the role.

For more information, reach out to our team today to set up a demo and see for yourself how Emergent can help your agency thrive.

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