The Louisville Fire Department is increasing its recruitment efforts to fill an unexpected surge in retirements. Those efforts include a renewed focus on enlisting minorities and women, a public showcase at the department’s training facility, and an invitation for local media to be a fire recruit for a day.
More firefighters than usual retired this year — around 35 retirements compared to the usual 25 according to Louisville Fire Department Major Bobby Cooper. Cooper said people retire for many reasons, but recent changes to pension benefits likely factored into them retiring earlier than expected this year. Cooper said the department’s recruitment will focus on women and minorities because few of them apply.
“We have plenty of white men who apply for this job,” Cooper said. “The problem is we just don’t have a really large pool of minority and especially female applicants.”
Louisville Fire Department Assistant Chief Randy Croney said diversity in fire departments is also important because it can offer new perspectives and inspire others.
“You can deal with situations a lot better with diversity than you can if you’ve got an all-black crew [or] all-white crew,” Croney said. “Also, if another minority or female sees somebody that ranks to their same race or their same color they’ll say, ‘If they can do it, I can do it too.’”
Croney said recruitment will be led by three teams who will visit schools and universities to explain the application process and persuade people to apply. But recruiting is more difficult now than it was before. Croney said changes to state pension benefits means there are fewer incentives to offer, and high demand for workers at big employers like Ford means there is tough competition.
But Croney and Cooper said firefighting is a great job, and they wanted to prove it by inviting reporters to put on a fire suit and be a recruit for a day. After donning fire suits and listening for the hiss of oxygen tanks, a sign that air is flowing into the masks, six local journalists, including this reporter, climbed metal stairs of the fire academy’s training building to a floor simulated to be an apartment.
Crawling through the dark with the fire hose as a guide, we were led to a room where straw and wooden pallets were burning. Gray smoke filled the room filled. Nearby firefighters, made visible by the flame, knelt as the fire licked the ceiling. As the heat rose it melted plastic eye guards and nearly setting a pair of goggles on fire. When firefighters doused the controlled flame, thermal imaging cameras said the heat had reached 905 degrees.
Cooper said recruits go through this kind of training, and said people interested in it should fill out an application before the January 10 deadline. There will also be a public showcase at the department’s training academy at 1501 W. Hill Street on December 7 and 8th from 10 to 3 p.m. Sunday’s showcase is specifically meant for women who are students, but the department will not turn away other people interested in the showcase.
It takes around a year and a half to finish the department’s vetting process and its required drill academy, but Cooper said the career is worth it.
“It really is a rewarding career. There’s no other career where you have such close contact and make such an immediate impact on the community that you’re serving,” Cooper said. “Just come apply, and then in a few months maybe you’ll have that option of being one of Louisville’s bravest.”
More information about being a firefighter is here.