Engaging Younger Generations: What`s In It for Us?

As leaders of the fire service, we're confronted with a multitude of challenges. These come in two predominate varieties: emergency operations and personnel leadership.

The art of leadership is just that—an art. It's the ability to influence others to do what's needed. Becoming artists in leadership betters our organizations and us. We can't manage people the way we manage paperwork. People are unique, though we're all firefighters at our core.

The fire service finds itself, again, at a point of needing to adapt to the future, and this future is in the hands of our youngest members. Whether we come from a large metropolitan department, the smallest rural department or anywhere in between, we must understand and embrace our future generations.

How do we find the right youths and develop them into future leaders who'll move the fire service forward while maintaining the core traditions that make the fire service what it is today? These aren't easy questions, and we need to work together to answer them. Some of the answers may make us uncomfortable or show us we need to change our views, but we must persevere together to be successful.

Change is a part of life, and people adapt to change either positively or negatively. One change that is inevitable in the fire service, as in any other arena, is the transition from the old guard to the new.

It's our obligation as old guard, or not-so-old guard, to prepare the new guard to take our places when the time comes. We need to assess the strengths and areas of opportunity of our young members. We need to mentor them to prepare them with the knowledge necessary to be successful.

How do we know their strengths and weaknesses? We need to take the time to ask them and be willing to listen to the answer.

This for some leaders can be difficult. It means we don't have all the answers and we need to look at a situation from a different perspective.

We can't afford the luxury of assuming we know what motivates our younger members. They're different from us—from our traditional background—but they offer what previous generations have not.

Our fire service is strong because of our traditional upbringing. Does that mean we can't change some of those traditions where it's needed? What about reducing line-of-duty deaths and injuries?

We need to always remember why we do the job. It's for our families—our fire service families, our traditional families, our community families.

Some of the youth today don't embrace a sense of family the way many of us have grown to do. Successful change is about flexibility and adaptability, but it doesn't mean change for the sake of change.

Creating opportunities for young members to do what they're skilled at, like using social media, while being flexible to their preference to migrate between opportunities, like providing a leave of absence for school, provides an environment that holds to the traditions of the fire service while supporting the needs of the next generation of first responders.

How, you may ask, does this hold to fire service traditions?

Family is about helping our brothers and sisters be successful and supporting their needs; we can provide that fire service family to our young members by being artists in leadership.

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