Maryland fire departments face hiring shortage as young job seekers look elsewhere: 'We'll be in trouble'

Maryland's fire departments could be significantly understaffed without enough new recruits, some residents fear.

The Baltimore Banner reported Sunday that central Maryland's fire departments were down to fewer than 1,000 members in 45 stations with 80 vacant and budgeted positions.

From May to November 2023, the report said only about 1,400 new people applied for positions, and only 39 applicants made it into the fire academy. This represents a dramatic drop from before the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw between 3,000 and 5,000 applicants.

“Today, everything is good,” said Dominic Butchko, deputy director of the Maryland Association of Counties. “But in five, ten, fifteen years, if recruitment still does not reach the level we need and if retirements continue at a sustained rate, we will be in difficulty.”

Howard County Fire Truck

Applications for the fire service have declined significantly since the coronavirus pandemic. (Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services)


Different The ministries said that while there is no central reason behind the decline, multiple factors could influence the reluctance to recruit. Primarily, recruiters in Prince George's County have argued that fire departments are competing with higher-paying remote work for younger recruits.

“We're competing with travel jobs, IT, working from home: COVID has exposed it all day long,” said Kirk Spencer, a firefighter and medic assigned to recruiting for the fire/EMS department. “That's it: Show up, get your hands dirty. It's cold, it's hot and it's hard all the time.”

Others have suggested a generational shift in interest in being a firefighter with less passion for getting involved in the community.

“He’s a different candidate,” said Yolanda Smedley, the fire department’s human resources manager. “People don't answer their phones. People don't come dressed appropriately for the written exam. Basic things.”

Maryland Fire Department

Prince George's County firefighters lamented that people are shifting to remote work. (Photo by Robb Hill for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

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Meanwhile, the mental, physical and emotional pressures of the job appear to have taken their toll on the remaining workers. Some noted that “people are at their breaking point” with mandatory overtime, with many working more than 24 hours per shift.

“It’s time to create creative approaches to attract people to the workforce and help them stay there once they’re there,” said Ted Delbridge of the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems.

In 2023, Maryland lawmakers passed a bill to create a commission to study the issue and make recommendations by December. Since then, some have proposed bills targeting scholarships, higher education aid and loan repayment assistance that could encourage new recruits. Prince George's County also placed recruiters in local high schools to screen for possible “untapped interests.”

Fire trucks

Maryland lawmakers have suggested adding scholarships and educational grants for potential recruits. (Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)


According to the Baltimore Banner, Calvert County in particular offers “a minimum starting salary of about $46,000, although many members ultimately earn more through overtime and promotions.” After 20 years of service, members can retire with a pension equal to 50% of their highest salary. , and will also be eligible for Social Security at age 65. The county pays up to 80 percent of pre- and post-retirement health care costs.


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