The COVID-19 pandemic has had a tremendous impact on first responders. Not only has it created a new normal that’s changed the way fire and EMS agencies operate, but it’s also left agencies short on volunteers as people take time off to quarantine or recover from illness. Many past volunteers are now unavailable: some are caring for sick family members; some are minimizing exposure to protect their health or that of loved ones who are at higher risk; and some have full-time jobs that currently prohibit them from doing volunteer work in order to minimize the exposure of other staff members. In the face of the volunteer shortage, what can agencies do to ensure they continue meeting public safety needs?
In a year of on-the-job dangers posed by a viral pandemic and civil unrest, public safety agencies nationwide are going through massive change. With officers, firefighters and EMS personnel working in extremely volatile situations, many agencies have the added stress of staffing shortages. Some vacancies are caused by the fatigue of managing civil acts of violence. Others are due to employees testing positive for or being exposed to COVID-19.
The inability to back fill vacancies with qualified personnel and equipment is not an option. Scheduling and managing a workforce with these concerns in mind is tough using Excel spreadsheets. Many agencies have adjusted their practices and are relying on technology to effectively manage the safety of their personnel.
When emergency situations strike, the world relies on first responders to help. But what happens when the Fire and Rescue workforce is adapting to the unknown? Global issues like the COVID-19 pandemic have shone a light on workforce challenges that won't be going away anytime soon. It's crucial to understand what to look for and how to plan for the road ahead.
As organizations nationwide adapt to life during the COVID-19 pandemic, public safety agencies are among those facing additional challenges. This includes jails and prisons, which must implement protocols to keep inmates safe from the life threatening virus. Reducing the spread may be difficult, but there are several ways to prepare and prevent against the illness for the incarcerated and workforce staff within these facilities.
There may never have been a more challenging time to be working in public safety than right now. Since the outbreak of COVID-19 many first responders have been working excessively long hours, often for several weeks in a row to keep our communities safe. These past few weeks have been incredibly tough for law enforcement with civil unrest and calls for reform, de-funding and even dismantling of police agencies. With overtime already spiraling out of control and the long term impact of the economic slowdown, many agencies are looking back in order to chart a course forward.
The U.S. is a racially diverse country and diversity will continue to be a prominent consideration well into the future. Increasing workforce diversity within public safety organizations is a key consideration that builds community trust and legitimacy.
While diversity practices adopted by public safety agencies vary, they all focus on key areas that include recruitment, hiring, and retention. Each successful diversity-building effort also shares a few best practices.
Demand is rising for emergency medical services in communities served by volunteer fire departments. It's time for these agencies to consider adding rescue personnel to their rosters. While every region has its own needs, the general pattern is consistent.
Managing a workforce is especially critical in the world of public safety, but it can be difficult when not everyone has the same knowledge of departmental culture and expectations. Getting the whole team on the same page is essential.
When it comes to emergency medical response times, every minute counts. In communities that are too large or understaffed to dispatch paramedics in acceptable times, volunteers can fill a vital role, stepping in when people need help.
Fire and police departments are exploring new staffing strategies today to ensure they field the right personnel to keep their communities safe - while working within budget constraints. This can even mean combining hiring authority departments that were previously separate.