City of Midland Firefighters look to find new recruits

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 26,400 openings for firefighters are projected on average each year, over the next decade. Many of those openings are due to the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations, retirement attrition, or candidates who simply don’t recognize the opportunities available in the field, making the need for qualified applicants a top priority for local firefighters. 
Josh Mosher is the Fire Chief for the City of Midland's Fire Department.
City of Midland Fire Chief Joshua Mosher already sees this issue occurring in Midland, “When I started out in the early 2000’s I was one of over a thousand applicants, our last round of applications received for an opening was 13.”

“You would test for an open position and there'd be three or four hundred people. And when you took your service exam, they would only take the top 10%. Now we can't even have those tests because we don't have enough people to fill the room.” says Battalion Chief Tyler Alden.

As a result of diminished applicants, the average age of firefighters has increased, explains Fire Lieutenant Joe Shaffer. “When I started, I would say we had 15 guys under 30 at the time. And now they're all in their upper thirties and forties.” With the average age of firefighters increasing, the challenge of filling retiree positions has increased commensurately. 

According to many local firefighters, shifting cultural trends have helped contribute to challenges in the recruitment process, as new employees value jobs differently. “I think there was a big push for people to join the fire service after 911, people wanted to serve their community. They saw what those people did and the recognition of it. And that has since dwindled dramatically," says Alden. 

Issues ranging from perceptions of public service roles, challenging economic factors, health concerns, and a lack of understanding about what the job entails have created a critical need for new recruits. ”For a lot of our younger firefighters, it's a tiered system. They don't have health care when they retire. I think that's going to affect your recruitment and retention,” says Lieutenant Bob Hoffman. 

“Health care in general is a concern. Cancer in firefighters is nine times higher than in the general public, because we’re entering homes and businesses with asbestos and other unknown materials,” says Chief Mosher. “But now we're starting to turn around. Now we have more gear. We have better monitors. We took a good step forward a few years ago when we got cancer presumption support at the State level. This fund helps pay medical bills if it's determined firefighting is where the cancer came from, but It's a double edged sword because we talk so much about it. You often wonder if that also pushes people away from applying.” 

Many of these economic factors can also impact firefighter retention, with many fire stations effectively poaching quality firefighters from one city to work for another with better benefits and pay. “There's a lot of gear, there's a lot of education, there's a lot of money. And if you're going to lose that candidate after a year or two and they're going to go somewhere else for better benefits, better wages, better situation, that can be a lot of wasted money invested in new hires,” says Alden. 
Firefighting is a physically demanding job.
In addition to changing economic factors impacting recruitment, the scope and quantity of calls firefighters find themselves responding to has changed dramatically over time. Statistics shared from the City of Midland Citizens Academy by Fire Chief Mosher show that in 1991 the annual call rate for firefighter responses were 1,536 and in 2023 that number had increased to 5,832. Midland City firefighters believe there are a number of issues that contribute to this increased call volume, the largest of which being their expanded role in emergency response.  

“We staff a regional response team that's responsible for hazmat, confined space, high angle rescue, and trench rescue for us and 13 surrounding counties. That takes an enormous amount of manpower and training and equipment and funding. However, that’s also one of the ways the fire service can promote recruitment, that we are so willing to help each other. But it also then puts a hindrance on the municipality who's leaving to go help somebody else. Now, if they have an emergency, they're short,” says Alden

Many firefighters believe that a better understanding of their work routine may help recruit a younger generation of firefighters. “We do fire inspections, but we also run medical calls and while we're there treating people for medical emergencies, we're also making sure that we're taking care of other things. If we notice the same people are falling a lot, we can talk to them and get them the resources like senior services who can come in and install grab bars and fall protection inside their home. So we're kind of an initial resource for a lot of those outside agencies to get into these people's homes. People call us when they don't know who else to call,” ads Fire Truck Operator Max Kopplin. 

The City of Midland Fire Department is involved in many events to showcase fire safety and awareness of the service they provide.
“We respond to down wires, trees in the road, it's the whole gamut. And that's what makes this job awesome, because when we come in today, we have no idea what we're going to do. It’s kind of one of the neat things about this job is that every day is just so unpredictable. However, we respond to more calls every year with essentially the same staffing we've had since the 1970s,” says Firefighter Nicholas Petrillo.

In addition to training and preparing to respond to emergencies, many firefighters have taken on responsibilites that didn’t exist ten years ago. With the advancement of new technologies and the increased focus on sharing resources, City of Midland firefighters have adapted their roles in response. 

Firefighter Jacob Giss is one of the firefighters responsible for training with new technologies and is FAA certified to fly the drone for the station. “We’ve used the drone to help search for people in a variety of ways, for instance someone escapes and the police need help looking for them, or someone wanders away from a nursing home. We also have thermal capabilities on the drones so you can say, this is a giant hot spot over here. You need to direct more trucks to this area. We have drones with capabilities to carry water rescue equipment, but we have to be FAA certified to do this.” 

The City of Midland Firefighters are addressing these recruitment and retention challenges by engaging with the public to help everyone better understand how the work they do impacts the community, and giving back to the community through the Midland Firefighters Youth Foundation

“We have a ride along program where anyone from the age of 16 and up is welcome to come in and see what it's like to be a fireman for the day,” says Kopplin. “People will get to do some extra training, we can put them in gear. There's a 100% chance you're not going to go into a fire if we get one, But we'll put you through some scenarios so you can see that it's not like Chicago Fire (TV show).”

Kopplin ads, “We also raise money through the foundation that goes to local youth organizations. We've exponentially helped out groups with rather than just $100 sponsorship. We’ll say hey, guess what, here's $800, here's $1,500. We can help them achieve whatever goals they're trying to reach. We don’t want finances to be the reason why they can't play sports or why they can't be a part of a robotics team.”

To learn more about becoming a City of Midland Firefighter, participate in one of their ride along programs, or contribute to their youth foundation, email or call 989-837-3410.

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Read more articles by Ben Tigner.

Ben Tigner is a native Colemanite that married a native Sanfordite and seeks to spiritually retain dual citizenship in both communities. He is a lifelong Pistons fan and enjoys playing the piano but loathes mind numbing Minecraft banter from his children. He earned his Bachelor's degree at Ferris State and Masters from CMU and has served for over 20 years on school and zoning boards, and city councils.