A S.C. city’s step-by-step guide to firefighter recruitment in 2023

The Myrtle Beach Fire Department takes a four-step approach to attracting applicants and hiring new members


Are you running through that overtime list – again?

Is your organization seeing 25-plus-year members retiring?

Have you received a grant and need to fill spots?

"Recruitment will continue to be a part of the fire service culture long after we retire. Ensure that you are constantly updating your recruitment playbook to help push your department to the top of the job market list," writes Sliker. (Photo/City of Myrtle Beach, S.C.)

Regardless of the reason, countless fire departments across the country are facing staffing challenges. To relieve some of the burden, the following is a guide to aggressive but refined recruitment tactics.

Step 1: Plan, plan, plan – then execute

Once you have identified the specific number of recruits needed to fill vacancies, it’s time to start planning and executing on your vision.

  • Start with a timeline of when the recruitment period will begin and how long it will last. This plan needs to be set in motion at least a month before the jobs will be announced. This gives applicants time to digest the possibility of working for your organization.
  • Assemble the team! Recruitment is a team effort, and gaining buy-in from current organization members is crucial to a successful hiring process. 
  • Applicants will do their research, so make sure that all of your websites and social media platforms are up to date and reflect your current recruiting efforts.
  • Plan events throughout the community, hitting high schools and colleges, job fairs, military bases, open houses and other community events.
  • Contact local media, like radio stations and TV news. Free airtime is worth its weight in gold and can help propel your organization to the top of a job-seekers list.
  • Go beyond local options by posting on social media and your department website. Use these tools to create a job pool the size of the Atlantic Ocean.

During its latest recruitment period, the Myrtle Beach (S.C.) Fire Department received applications from all over the country, including California, Colorado, New York and Massachusetts, to name a few states. This certainly wasn’t due to in-person recruitment events; this was due to solid social media and web campaigns that scoured the United States.

Bottom line: Use technology to your advantage and push that job posting across the country.

Step 2: Focus on diversity recruiting – the fire service is for everyone

Diversity in the fire service is extremely important, as we need to reflect the communities we serve. Unfortunately, diversity recruitment efforts can be an uncomfortable conversation for some members. News flash: It shouldn’t be! Everything you do should be for the betterment of the organization and the fire service, and every organization needs quality candidates of all races and genders. That means we must show the potential of this career to everyone. If we don’t, we have failed our department and the fire service as a whole.

"Diversity in the fire service is extremely important, as we need to reflect the communities we serve," Sliker writes.
"Diversity in the fire service is extremely important, as we need to reflect the communities we serve," Sliker writes. (Photo/Christian Sliker)

Like so many fire departments in the United States, the Myrtle Beach Fire Department is comprised primarily of white men. To help attract more diverse applicants, the department recently hosted four events, two focused on reaching women and two located in a historically Black neighborhood:

  • Reaching female community members: The two female-focused recruiting events gave potential applicants the opportunity to network with female firefighters from our organization and answer common questions. These events were incredibly successful, with over 90% of the women who attended choosing to apply to our organization.
  • Connecting with Black community members: The other two recruitment events were held at Charlie’s Place, a city facility located in a historically Black neighborhood. During these events, firefighters networked with potential applicants and answered questions about how to apply to the department.

These events gave MBFD the ability to showcase the fire service as a career opportunity for everyone.

To increase diversity, MBFD held two recruiting events at Charlie's Place, a city facility located in a historically Black neighborhood. 
To increase diversity, MBFD held two recruiting events at Charlie's Place, a city facility located in a historically Black neighborhood.  (Photo/Christian Sliker)

Step 3: Keep applicants engaged

Once people start applying for the open positions and you’re ready to start testing, it’s vital to keep these potential members engaged in the process.

A key step here is shortening the process. If you plan on holding a testing process that takes six months, then good luck. No one is waiting that long to receive a job offer. Today’s workforce wants a job NOW, so prolonging the experience will likely cost you high-quality employees.

To combat this issue, MBFD tailored our testing process to be more efficient and applicant-friendly. The process lasted four days, minimizing the time applicants needed to take off for our hiring process. The compressed schedule included:

  • Online exams: Individuals could take the written test from home – no travel required;
  • Several days for further testing: Job-related physical-agility test and interview held in person on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday; and
  • Timely job offers: Job offers are given by Friday of the same week.                     

The new approach was a success for our organization. In a post-application process survey, applicants reported 99% positive feedback about the process, start to finish.

Step 4: Sell the city to out-of-towners

MBFD hosted a tour of the city for potential firefighter applicatns and their families. 
MBFD hosted a tour of the city for potential firefighter applicatns and their families.  (Photo/Christian Sliker)

In the past, the MBFD had seen many individuals travel to South Carolina to test only to head back out of town without learning about the city. How can you envision calling a place home without knowing learning what makes it special? This is something MBFD had to change as part of our hiring process.

MBFD decided to host a guided tour of the city, designed to show applicants and their families all of the great things our city has to offer. With help from our local transit company, we were able to secure a 40-passenger bus for two days and host over 75 applicants and their families on a 1.5-hour tour around the City. The tour covered city parks, recreation centers, local schools and of course some popular tourist destinations.

Live to fight another day

Recruitment will continue to be a part of the fire service culture long after we retire. Ensure that you are constantly updating your recruitment playbook to help push your department to the top of the job market list. You should know by now what does and doesn’t work for your organization, so use that information to your advantage for the next hiring process. Goals will be achieved, success will happen, but always remember, let’s leave the fire service better than we found it – and that means hiring great firefighters!


Read next:

Read next:

7 factors that affect firefighter retention – and how to fix them

From showing appreciation to explaining the “why,” there are several ways to help minimize attrition rates at your department


Looking for a condensed version to send to your crew? Here are the highlights:

  • Step 1: Plan and execute recruitment strategies. This includes identifying the number of recruits needed, setting a recruitment timeline, updating websites and social media platforms, planning community events and leveraging local media.
  • Step 2: Focus on diversity in recruitment. The fire service should reflect the communities it serves, and efforts should be made to attract candidates of all races and genders. The Myrtle Beach Fire Department, for example, hosted events specifically targeting women and people in historically Black neighborhoods.
  • Step 3: Keep applicants engaged throughout the hiring process. This can be achieved by shortening the process. MBFD reduced theirs to four days. This included online exams, physical-agility tests and interviews, and timely job offers.
  • Step 4: Sell your city to out-of-town applicants. MBFD hosted guided city tours to show applicants and their families what the city has to offer.
  • Recruitment is a continuous process that should be updated and improved regularly. Using past experiences to guide future recruitment processes can help attract high-quality, diverse candidates.
  • The use of technology and social media is vital for recruitment, allowing for a wider reach and the ability to attract applicants from all over the country.
  • Timely and efficient hiring processes are appreciated by applicants. Prolonged hiring processes can deter potential high-quality employees.

FireRescue1 used generative AI to create the above summary points, edited and fact-checked by our editors. 

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