Recruitment and training of young talent in the youth fire brigade – a look at Denmark.
Fire brigades would not exist without volunteers: volunteer firefighters make up the majority of crews – in Germany, for instance, it’s 95%. In order to secure the next generation of fire brigades, it is important to recruit and train young talent in a structured manner. One look at Denmark shows that the youth fire brigade is clearly understrength there. In conversation with Florian Habig, training coordinator for the youth fire brigade in Aarhus, we find out why this is and how the recruitment and training of young people is managed there. This article also shows how joining the youth fire brigade has a positive impact on numerous skills and areas of life for young people.
“Unge i Beredskabet”: the youth fire brigade in Denmark
Unge i Beredskabet roughly translates as ‘young people on standby’, and is the national organisation responsible for the youth fire brigade in Denmark. This has set itself the goal of telling young people all about the enjoyment to be had from firefighting. The youth fire brigade is part of the Danish “Beredskab”, consisting of national, regional and local authorities. The Beredskab operates in the fields of civil defence, fire prevention, firefighting and rescue services.
Florian Habig is a project worker at Unge i Beredskabet responsible for training the youth fire brigade in Aarhus. He brings a vast range of knowledge with him, having completed an apprenticeship as a nurse and first-aid trainer. He is also technically proficient as a qualified motor vehicle mechanic. Florian is a fire equipment operator who qualified in Germany and now works as a volunteer firefighter, first aider and youth trainer for the community fire brigade in Denmark.
Organisation of the Danish fire service
The fire service in Denmark is organised very differently from the situation we find in Germany. The country is more sparsely populated, so some small towns have no fire brigade of their own. Fire stations in Denmark are typically 30 km apart. This is where the main weakness lies: in rural areas, it can be almost impossible for the fire brigade to get to the scene of an accident promptly, owing to the considerable distances involved.
Firefighters can be split into three groups: professional firefighters, volunteer firefighters and part-time firefighters. Some 82% of Danish emergency service providers consist of voluntary and part-time workers, with these latter making up the majority. Qualifying as a part-time firefighter requires living and working no more than five minutes away from the fire station. A difficult condition to meet, considering how spread out the population is.
These vast distances and the fact there is less of a volunteer mindset also put pressure on the youth fire brigade in Denmark. A local fire brigade “just around the corner” can appeal to new people who might be interested and provide a gentle introduction. The figures stack up, because in 2007 there were just 16 youth fire brigades in Denmark. However, the ever-increasing commitment to the youth fire brigade is bearing fruit, because by the end of 2021 this number had grown to 51. By way of contrast, there were an incredible 20,867 youth fire brigades in Germany in 2019, according to the German Fire Brigade Association.
In Denmark, it follows that children and young people rely on support from their parents to drive them to the nearest fire station. This can easily mean a 30 to 45 minute round trip. A major obstacle which needs to be overcome with a worthwhile schedule of activities.
Effects of the youth fire brigade on cognitive and social skills
“What motivates us? It’s fun, we’re doing something useful and we are also contributing to society,” explains Florian Habig regarding his intrinsic motivation. There is no room for going it alone or being self-centered in the youth fire brigade. This is where camaraderie counts. Members aged 11 to 18 become part of a solid community and feel a sense of belonging. They are surrounded by other like-minded people there. So mutual interests are promoted. This was confirmed in research commissioned by Unge i Beredskabet into the positive impact of volunteer fire brigades on young people.
One huge benefit is so-called transferability, referring to knowledge and skills acquired which young people can then apply in other areas of life, such as in social or professional contexts. The research confirms that members of the youth fire brigade:
- take on more responsibility
- develop greater self-confidence (at school, for instance)
- take the initiative more often and show a willingness to help
- get better at seeking help
- show more respect
- actively de-escalate conflict (in the school playground, for instance)
Taking part sets an important initial course: according to the results from one survey, a high proportion of young people are planning to become firefighters as adults.
In short, the youth fire brigade delivers many important values and skills to young people, which leave lasting, positive impressions and become part of who they are.
Unge i Beredskabet activity schedule
Recruiting and training young talent is crucial in order to get the next generation of firefighters ready and to maintain adequate levels of voluntary service. This is why Unge i Beredskabet has set itself the goal of generating enthusiasm for the business of firefighting among young Danes. In addition, the concept of voluntary service should be championed and young people should be persuaded of the importance of social issues. As a project worker at Unge i Beredskabet, Florian’s passion flows into the recruitment, training and further education of young people.
The youth fire brigade in Aarhus meets once a week and hence gets through the full training programme (firefighting, first aid, rescue, technical assistance, CBRNE) over the course of a year. Overnight expeditions are planned as well as regular meetings. Here young firefighters get an insight into a 24-hour shift at the station. Team sports and care of the equipment are also on the schedule.
The youth fire brigade also plans joint activities, such as swimming trips, where, among other things, water rescue is rehearsed.
Taking part in regional training courses is extremely popular, where the next generation can learn the business of firefighting. Here, youth fire brigades from all over Denmark come together at various training camps to improve their skills – as assistant instructors, qualified first aiders or operations managers (at youth level), for instance. Over one to three weekends, depending on the subject, typically 16 to 20 participants immerse themselves in the world of firefighting. Afterwards, candidates proudly accept their diplomas and awards for successful achievements. Should the young person want to complete all six training courses developed and provided by Unge i Beredskabet, it will take 2 to 3 years in total. Both “specialists” and “all-rounders” are helped on their journey to adulthood, in order then, in the best possible scenario, to join the full-time crew and undergo adult training to become a firefighter. However, this career path also opens other doors such as the emergency rescue services, the police or the military.
Youth fire brigade equipment
Youngsters also practice their drills using the adult equipment and so learn real-life scenarios from the outset. The only difference: it is important here to limit the weight carried in the training exercise. Using the SmartEm basket stretcher spares the younger ones their backs. Greater efficiency can be achieved by fitting various accessories, such as wheels, which reduce by half the total weight to be shifted.
Good equipment, which acts as a solution platform for various real-life rescue scenarios, does not tire you out so quickly, so the fun lasts longer. In this respect, we at SmartEm are delighted that we can make a contribution to the recruitment and training of young talent through our rescue equipment
Do you have questions about youth firefighter training or SmartEm equipment? Contact our team here.