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Firefighter Shortage: Navigating it Within Your Department

firefighter resting due to firefighter shortage in department

A firefighter shortage within departments means less heroic fire responders available to save lives during emergencies. If you department needs to undertake a new approach to filling your seats, you may find a new idea within our blog.

In the industry of public safety, staffing shortages pose a significant challenge for fire departments across the United States. Being directly involved this industry, we understand the gravity of this issue and the impact it can have on the safety of our communities.

Now more than ever, firefighters are being pulled into more responsibilities for their community and handling more calls for issues other than fires. The National Fire Protection Association holds research on the quantity and reasoning for calls within departments across the nation, dating back to 1980.

Their data tells us in 1980 there were 10.8 million calls across departments, with a split of 3 million fire calls compared to 5 million calls for EMS.

The numbers in 2021? 36.6 million nationwide calls, with a split of 1.3 million fires to a staggering 26 million EMS calls. The quantity of cross-trained first responders to deal with medical issues as well as fires has now hit 38% across the U.S.

The demand is growing but staff are declining

The demand on firefighters now is growing at such a fast rate but the intake is crawling along, struggling to keep up. One of these reasons is the lack of volunteers within departments, which is tightening the grip for not just volunteer only departments but combo departments too.

Reports from a volunteer department in L.A. state they used to see volunteer numbers within the 300,000’s in the 1970’s across the state but they have dwindled down to as low as 30,000. With fewer members in departments, responsibilities are stacked up which leads to more cases of burnout, greatly impacting how the job is performed and the safety of our firefighters.

Which steps can be taken to reverse a firefighter shortage

Recruitment and retention programs

Developing targeted recruitment programs can help attract qualified candidates for your department. This may involve collaborating with local schools, community organizations, and military veterans. Implementing retention programs to keep existing staff such as offering competitive salaries, benefits, and professional development opportunities is a strong strategy but this does rely on available funding. This, we understand, is very hard to come by for many departments.

Partnership training programs

Establish partnerships with local colleges, vocational schools, and training programs to give your department the best chance of a steady stream of well-trained recruits. Offer internships, apprenticeships, or volunteer opportunities to individuals interested in pursuing a career in firefighting.


With a potentially limited influx of new recruits, one option is to focus on cross-training your members to be facilitate them taking on new responsibilities and multiple roles within the department.

Technology and automation

Investing in technology and automation to streamline processes and reduce the workload on personnel can free them up to focus on other duties. This may include adopting advanced firefighting equipment, automated reporting systems, and predictive analytics for resource allocation.

Community engagement

There are no downsides to building strong ties with your local community to increase public awareness about the importance of firefighting careers. This can generate interest and encourage more individuals to pursue firefighting as a profession. Methods can include social media profiles for the department to enlighten and display the heroic stories of firefighters within the community.

During times of staffing shortages, it can take a large toll on your current members of staff both mentally and physically, alongside the members of your community when emergencies strike. Although we understand the hardship when new opportunities can seem sparse, there are many strategies your department can undertake to offer the best change of building out a full roster of loyal and brave firefighters.

Methods including recruitment and retention programs, partnership programs, cross-training, new technology and community engagement are all valuable avenues to explore for your department.


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