SPADRA, CA—After two decades of successfully diversifying its ranks, the nation’s fire departments are now set to tackle the latest challenge when it comes to hiring practices.
“The humorless are still under-represented in fire departments across the county,” notes Peter Throckmorton, a human resources expert for the generational consulting firm of Weiner, Throckmorton & Franks.
Although municipal departments have steadily increased the number of minority and female members over the last 25 years, a recent study concludes that younger, humor-impaired employees still only represent a modest percentage of the total workforce.
“There’s no question about it—we have to do a better job,” concedes John Thomas, Fire Chief for the City of Spadra, California.
But some legacy members seem resistant to change. “I’m not gonna lie to you, we had some good times back in the day,” reminisced Captain Geoffrey Simms. “Pranks, practical jokes, water buckets, crams, sarcasm, Pollack jokes—you name it.”
But Millennials apparently aren't having any of it.
“Today’s twenty- and thirty-somethings are more brittle, more easily offended,” notes Throckmorton. “They grew up on soccer trophies, safe spaces, trigger warnings, safety pins—all of that. Their parents and teachers assured them they were precious and special, so Millennials get confused and even butt-hurt if they get Miller-boarded,” he says, referring to a time-honored fire service initiation ritual that has all but disappeared.
And offending the humorless can be costly.
“We’re getting our asses sued off,” said one city official who asked to remain anonymous, but whose name is Norma A. Smith, a secretary in the legal department. “We just can’t afford humor anymore.”
Conceded Throckmorton, “It’s true that the humorless are naturally more litigious. But that doesn’t mean agencies shouldn't aggressively pursue them in the hiring process.”
To that end, Spadra City Fire has joined hundreds of other departments nationwide in developing finely-tuned and specifically targeted outreach programs and offering special workshops in an effort to attract more humorless prospects. In fact, that department’s program is headed by Firefighter Scot Erickson, who is himself humor-impaired.
“We’re setting up recruiting booths at college campuses, yoga classes, whole food groceries, Bernie Sanders rallies, and even local Starbucks,” says Erikson, who is genetically unable to detect irony. “Any venue where Jerry Seinfeld or Chris Rock lost a booking, we definitely take a closer look.”
Will it work?
Chief Thomas is optimistic. After all, he says, “The humorless are our future.”
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