Public Safety Voices: Fire Chief Tom Jenkins

The Millennial workforce presents new challenges. 

“Our primary challenge is how to deal with the youngest generation we employ: the Millennials. We’re used to hiring people who want to be career firefighters, and for the first time ever, our new hires are often not interested in a long-term career. So, how do we keep them motivated and retain them?

“We start by acknowledging that it’s not business as usual. This is just not the same group working here today; they’re not going to conform to what we believe are the best parts of the job. For example, it’s hard to get Millennials to work overtime – they enjoy their time off. We used to work 24 on, 48 off; now we work 48 on, 96 off.

“This generation is also focused on wanting to make a difference, to have an impact – to see and do different things. If things get stagnant or they get bored, then they’re unhappy and want to go elsewhere. So, to combat that, we created diversity in our assignments, e.g., running airport fire stations, special rescue and hazardous materials teams.

“At some point it begins to inch toward a crisis. We can’t compete with the private sector on pay. We offer a great pension, but they live in the now. They’re not thinking about the future.”

At best, fighting fires is only five percent of our job.

“The one thing people don’t respect enough is the wide scope of our business. Over 3,000 people die every year in a fire; it’s still a very real and tangible threat. But a lot of people think all we do is fight fire. At best, that’s five percent of our job.

“We’re the only 24/7 health care industry that still makes house calls. Car wreck, train wreck, chemical spill, chest pains, or a house on fire – we’re the first on the scene. We work to balance all the new and emerging things we do. It’s tough to advocate for so many different things, and be master of all.”

Fire Chief Tom Jenkins, Rogers, Arkansas, Fire Department

New Series! Public Safety Voices

Next week we will begin running a very special new series entitled “Public Safety Voices.” Our goal in creating this series is two-fold: (1) to bring together the public safety community – law enforcement, fire, emergency communications and corrections – through your shared challenges, experiences and goals; and (2) to illuminate the good work, heroism and humanity of our public safety workforce.

The entries will be relatively short – think of it in terms of Humans of New York for public safety professionals – and will come from interviews with public safety professionals all over the country and from coast to coast.

So please check back with us next Tuesday when we’ll bring you the first entry in this exciting new series!