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Pinnacles and Pitfalls of Recruitment: An EMS Perspective

Recruitment quite literally means engaging in the process of finding new employees, members or personnel. In and of itself, the thought seems relatively easy. Get out the word about your organization and hopefully you’ll increase the number of applicants.

Is it that easy? Are you recruiting now?

Don’t Just Find People—Find the Right People

Think about it this way: the recruited individual from today may be the front-line paramedic in two years, the engine company officer in six or seven years, the battalion chief in 10 years and ultimately—maybe—the fire chief.

Here are a few golden nuggets from the Stafford County Fire and Rescue Department, an all-hazards response agency in Virginia, about an hour south of Washington, D.C. The county has seen population growth of nearly 40% between the 2000 U.S. census and the 2010 census. Likewise, the department has experienced rapid growth; more than three-quarters of our agency’s operational personnel have been hired within the past five years. While this refers to career staffing recruitment for ALS providers, the four elements below apply to all organizations.


No, this is not the ICS section assignment, but one that will allow all members to understand your organization’s recruitment goals. It truly does require all hands for a recruitment process to be fruitful.

Recently, I had the opportunity to plan a recruitment drive for educated EMS professionals—specifically paramedics. The mission was to increase the number of certified and qualified paramedics who wanted to work for our organization while ensuring that they would be a good fit for our organization’s long-term goals. Much like the U.S. military’s fires for effect, we decided to recruit for effect. We set out to spread the word about our organization and hopefully elicit interested and qualified personnel for our next hiring process.

Organizational Branding and Visibility

An organization that has identified successful recruitment as a goal must embrace branding as a cornerstone of awareness. Things as simple as personnel uniforms, fleet graphic designs and ink pens with your organization’s website really do make a difference. Recognition is key to recruitment success. If a prospective candidate has to think about what your organization is, they’ll most likely pass you over.

In addition to organizational branding, visibility of your personnel and their recruitment efforts is also key. Recently, we recruited at a very large EMS conference. With our static display standing tall and proud—filled with colorful photos of our department’s providers at work—and with our motivated ambassadors walking the floor, we set forth to find the best paramedics we could. Throughout the four days of the conference, we spoke to more than 1,000 EMS professionals, many of whom spent 20 or 30 minutes speaking with our group.


Acknowledge your good providers; they are your best recruiters. Networking doesn’t only occur at the chief-officer level. Paramedics are an interesting breed, and they’re more than happy to share their organizational likes and dislikes with their colleagues.

One experiment to try is this: the next time that you’re in a group of firefighters and paramedics from different agencies, listen for how long it takes one of them to ask a friend, “How do you like working at …?” or “How are things going in …?”

If the answer is anything but accolades for your organization, you’re going to fight a constant uphill battle with recruitment. I was blessed to have three smart and motivated individuals with me at our last conference, and there is no doubt in my mind that they made a significant impact.

Recruitment as a Retention Tool

Many organizations allot significant amounts of funds to retention, while recruitment is normally a minimally funded afterthought.

Don’t get me wrong; initiatives such as pay-for-performance are good tools for retention. But think about it this way: if your recruitment efforts were front-loaded to find your organization the most fitting candidates for hire, wouldn’t they be more likely to stay long term?

Finding the right fit is paramount: loyalty and institutional knowledge are not mutually exclusive. The longer members of your organization stay on the job, progressing and learning, the more they'll know about their responsibilities and the less likely they'll be to leave. Isn’t it smart to get the right people from the beginning?

Joe Grainger from the Stafford County Fire and Rescue Department wrote this article.

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