When is the last time you looked at the demographics of your roster? How many members do you have in the 1yr -5yr range, the 10yr – 15yr range, and the over 20yr range? How many of your members have more than one job or children under the age of 18. How many are members of the baby boomer generation and how many are millennial’s?
Yes, I know that it is illegal to discriminate based on age or marital status, and no, I am not advocating that you find something else to call it! However, knowing the answers to the aforementioned questions is important in managing a volunteer fire department. As a leader, you must keep your finger on the pulse of the organization and everyone one of the mentioned demographics pose a different challenge.
The firefighters that fit into the 1yr-5yr range are in their growth stage. Much of what they are learning is being seen for the first time. Training is exciting, challenging, and rewarding. It is important that you keep the training fresh and these members engaged. This takes a great deal of energy and resources.
The firefighters in the 10yr-15yr range are in their prime. At this point, they should be beyond basic level training and have a solid foundation of experience. They should require little supervision and should be advancing into formal leadership roles. These members are in the development stage and the level of training planned for them should reflect that. This group represents many of your worker bees and should not be taken for granted. Their skills are sharp and will be difficult to replace if lost.
The firefighters in the over 20yr range are your senior people. They are most likely formal and informal leaders and provide stability to the organization. This group provides a great deal of value to the organization; they have a wealth of knowledge and are likely well networked within the community.
Although there would likely be some crossover, these three tiers likely represent the millennial, generation X, and the baby boomers respectively. A great deal has been written about how there is an impeding exodus of the baby boomer generation and how some perceive that the millennial’s don’t have what takes to sustain the volunteer fire service.
What you do not read much about is how generation X is moving into those leadership roles being vacated by the baby boomers. It will be generation X that bridges that leadership gap. There is a perception by the baby boomers that the millennial’s do not appreciate tradition, and do not want to pay their dues. There is a perception by the millennial’s that the baby boomers want to live in the past and hold them back.
Somewhere in the middle lies generation X, trying to calm the waters, bring reason to the table, and move the volunteer fire service forward. At the risk of painting with a VERY broad brush – I see many baby boomers resisting the need to release the reins. Yes, I know millenial’s that are a bit brass and appear to feel they are entitled. However, this is the exception and not the rule. We need to understand that the world we live in today is different from yesterday. This is not to say we should disrespect or forget the past, but rather honor it by learning from the lessons shared by those that served before us.