Digital Recruitment and Retention

Burlington Township (NJ) Firefighter Matt Stahlnecker checks his mobile device while returning from a run on Rescue 30. Photo by: Tiger Schmittendorf

The world is changing rapidly and the fire service is getting caught up in the tornado effect of technology on our society.

More and more fire departments are smartly using web sites, e-mail and social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter to recruit new firefighters, share life safety information and to stay connected to their community. There isn’t much you can’t do with a mobile device today that took a super-computer to do less than 30 years ago.

And while we’re making strides in keeping our folks safer on the incident scene, there’s probably few bigger challenges today than to keep your folks out of trouble on social networks and the Internet. Sometimes ‘retention’ in the fire service devolves to preventing our people from doing stupid stuff.

I recently had the opportunity to facilitate a conversation titled: “From the Xbox to the Box Alarm” with a large group of fire instructors  for the University of Kansas Fire and Rescue Institute wherein we discussed today’s and tomorrow’s generation of firefighters. The conversation focused not only on the challenges in understanding, motivating, training and leading this unique cadre of individuals, but also enlightened the participants as to the tremendous potential they possess for moving our fire service forward.

And, naturally, you can’t have a conversation about today’s generation of firefighters without discussing the importance of technology and the impact of social networking.

I had the daunting task of following a presentation by Curt Varone, an accomplished attorney and fire service leader who has his finger on the pulse of social media’s infiltration into the fire service. After engaging in the conversation during his presentation, when it came time for me to start my “Xbox” conversation, I joked with the participants that I didn’t think I could “legally” share any of the information I had planned for my presentation. He scared the stuffing out of me and it wasn’t even Halloween yet.

While the use of social media and the Internet in general can be a scary proposition for any fire department — and especially any fire officer — Curt’s underlying theme is that this technology offers virtually unlimited opportunities to promote the positive virtues of the fire service.

He reinforces that, like any other fire service tactic, these opportunities far outweigh the potential negatives — if applied properly. And, like every other tactic, the proper application of fire service social media requires good planning, documentation, training, and situational awareness to be safe and effective.

Below is an invitation to one of Curt’s upcoming conversations regarding strategies for managing fire departments in the digital age. And there are several others in the fire service who are focused on helping you make sure that the use of social media goes in the win column and not the loss column for your fire department, including Dave Statter at, Rommie Duckworth’s “Social Media Marketing Your Department: Get What You Want For Your Service” and social media training and consulting by Rhett Fleitz of fame; amongst others.

While this may appear to be a blatant endorsement of their programs (and it is), it’s actually intended to be more of a wake-up call. If you’re not having conversations about the impact of social media in your firehouse — you need to be – before it’s too late and you find yourself on the wrong end of the camera or newsprint.

To borrow a quote from the movie Backdraft: “You see that flash of light in the corner of your eye? That’s your career dissipation light. It just went into high gear.”

So, my message to you is: “When it comes to proper use of social media in the fire service, don’t let that little blinking cursor in the corner of your computer screen become your career dissipation light!”

Think before you hit SEND!

Curt Varone’s:
Strategies For Managing Fire Departments in the Digital Age:

A firefighter takes a video with his cell phone from an emergency scene, forwards it to a buddy who is off-duty and before the crew returns to quarters, the video has gone viral on the internet. Sound farfetched? If you have been watching the headlines, you’ll notice that the world is changing… QUICKLY.  Fire departments are playing catch up with technology and new fads.  Need more proof:

  • A firefighter is arrested for downloading child pornography at work
  • A fire department is forced to settle a sexual harassment case because key emails were deleted
  • A firefighter paramedic is terminated for posting an offensive animated cartoon on Facebook that lampoons a local ER doctor
  • An officer is terminated for placing a videocam in the women’s bathroom to observe a female subordinate
  • A firefighter is fired after complaining about the fire chief on Facebook
  • An officer is demoted for engaging in an X-rated video chat while partially in uniform

Please join me on Saturday, December 3, 2011 in Farmington, Connecticut at the UConn Fire Department for Strategies For Managing Fire Departments in the Digital Age.

Strategies For Managing Fire Departments in the Digital Age is a one day program offering key strategies for dealing with these new challenges, including digital imagery, social media, computer/internet use, email, and electronic monitoring of the workplace.

For more information please visit

What the day will include:

Computers, the Internet, and Employee Privacy – The emergence of computers in our lives, and the explosion of laptops, iPads, cell phones, video recorders, digital cameras and the internet have in many ways outpaced the ability of the courts, legislatures and fire departments to keep up with the technology. Privacy concerns compete with legitimate employer needs to control how computers are used in the workplace.  This program will review what a fire department needs to do to effectively manage computers in the workplace.

Electronic surveillance of employees – Modern technology combined with our fast paced lifestyles have created a number of privacy issues that were unthinkable back when our Constitution was adopted 1791. The right of privacy has always been considered one of our most fundamental rights, but modern technology has been testing the boundaries of privacy. GPS tracking devices, security cameras, miniature spy cams, dash cams, and hidden recording devices raise two sets of concerns: Can the fire department lawfully use them, and can the department lawfully restrict their use by employees?

Photography and Digital Imagery – Fireground photography is both a passion and a side industry for many in the fire service. Advances in digital camera technology have made it possible for us to bring durable, reliable and inexpensive cameras to emergency scenes offering exceptional incident documentation and training materials. The problem is photo taking and dissemination can breach privacy and confidentiality laws, and has cost firefighters and fire chiefs their jobs. Learn what your department needs to do to properly manage photo taking without having to resort to a total photo ban.

Social Media – Social media has been both a blessing and a curse for the fire service, but one thing is undeniable: social media with all its problems is here to stay. The law that applies to social media has been evolving and continues to evolve, with new cases and considerations arising daily.  The class will address fire service social media cases from the past 3 years, covering First Amendment, collective bargaining, and privacy concerns. A range of policy options will be discussed.

Email and electronic records retention policies – Courts are confronted with cases involving email and electronically stored information that were unheard of ten years ago. Criminal and civil cases are being won and lost based on whether organizations have preserved emails and electronic data. Without a sound policy, your personnel are making thousands of individual decisions every day on what to delete and what to keep – decisions that can impact your organization for years to come! The evolving nature of the email retention problem has caused knowledgeable attorneys to change their approach from even a few years ago. This program covers the important issues, and what you need to do to protect your organization.

Curt Varone