Rio Rancho Fire and Rescue Department is bolstering its ranks by lowering its hiring age to 18 from 21.
Battalion Chief Ryan Floersheim said department leaders have been considering following that national trend for a couple of years. The goal is to “attract the most qualified local candidates possible” and to diversity the staff, he said.
The change took effect Jan. 14. Candidates must be 18 and have a high school diploma or equivalent at the time of application.
“We want nothing but the very best,” said Acting Fire Chief James DeFillippo.
Fire Lt. Jessica Duron-Martinez said the standards for becoming a Rio Rancho firefighter will remain the same.
“These kids have something to offer,” she also said, adding that age group is creative with technology and proficient with social media.
Floersheim said the department will mentor the new firefighters to make sure they meet expectations. He believes the age change will “help ensure the longevity of our department long after we’re gone.”
DeFillippo said RRFR had raised the age to 21 from 18 around 2007.
“I’ve always wondered how many future fire chiefs have we not hired because they went to other organizations to work,” he said.
He recalled applications from candidates who looked like excellent prospects except for being too young. DeFillippo was hired as a 20-year-old in 1999, and that opportunity shaped his life, he said.
He said the decision to change the hiring age didn’t come because the department was short-handed.
“We’ve been fully staffed,” he said, adding that RRFR has still seen the normal 5 percent annual retirement rate.
Floersheim said the department has had a 20 percent increase in applications during its current hiring period, although he didn’t know how many came from 18- to 20-year-olds. The announcement of the new hiring age might have just attracted more attention to the fact that the department is taking applications, he said.
The application window closes April 1, with the fire academy starting in August.
RRFR is holding question-and-answer sessions for applicants on March 12 and 19, at 8 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. each day, at the fire administration building, 1526 Stephanie Road. Attendance is limited to 25 people per session, and pre-registration is required by email to [email protected].
Floersheim said the sessions would discuss what life in the fire services entails, the history of the city and RRFR, and expectations of employees. Attendees will get study guides for the academic entrance exam, and peer fitness trainers will walk them through the physical fitness test, he said.
“All of this is to combat the 30 percent attrition rate in our hiring process,” he said.
Floersheim said Rio Rancho’s fire academy will begin including life skills classes such as doing maintenance on fire trucks, cooking for a fire crew and balancing checkbooks. Other departments have found such courses to be important when hiring new high school graduates.
“An 18- or 19-year-old might not have all the skills a 20-year veteran would expect them to provide,” Floersheim said.
He said supervisors will receive training on managing younger firefighters to combat the disconnect between generations.