Scott E. Goldstein is Fire Chief of The Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service (MCFRS). Chief Goldstein commands a staff of approximately 2,700 personnel with an infrastructure that includes thirty-seven fire and rescue stations. Chief Goldstein is an active member of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) Fire Chiefs Committee and has served on multiple, related subcommittees in the public safety arena. Chief Goldstein’s educational accomplishments include a Bachelor’s Degree in Fire Science from the University of Maryland as well as a Master’s Degree in Homeland Security from the Naval Post Graduate School. Chief Goldstein’s career in the fire and rescue service is rooted in Montgomery County where as a teenager he first began serving as a volunteer fire fighter rescuer. The interview covers topics Pay of fire fighters, Diversity in Fire Department, qualification for fire fighter and Safekids Coalition.
Pay of Fire Fighters:
Nagender Madavaram: Salary of average firefighter is around $46,000 in the County. It is impossible to live in the county with this salary. Firefighters are living in other counties as they can’t afford the housing. You may have problem in attracting new employees. What problems you are facing in recruitment and retainment of the employees?
Scott Goldstein: We have the expensive county. So indeed, cost of living is a big factor. Only about 20% of my workforce resides in Montgomery County. About 70% of firefighters reside in other counties of Maryland, but again, they can be 5 minutes away from Damascus, they can be technically in Frederick County because cost of living is less there. Look at Montgomery County, it used to be unheard of commuting an hour to your job. If you live in Germantown, it is a long way from DC. I’m here technically in Gaithersburg, but you know, 20 minutes away from Virginia. The workforce being so spread out, it’s just the nature of our geographic area itself. Cost of living drives part of that absolutely.
We are competitive, we are increasing firefighters’ salaries. All of our partners, the regional fire departments around us, hire or compete for the same people. I aim to hire about 80 to 90 people a year. It’s a continuous process, and indeed I want to say that the interest in a public safety job is going down. The average person today changes three jobs in five years. I don’t think Fire Rescue job is a customer service job. When the job applicants come to me at the age of 25 years, give or take they’ve already had five or six jobs. They may be just out from college, but they still also had multiple jobs. Job market today is competitive. Part of that is benefits and diversity of service. So as an organization, Fire Rescue department can get a specialist of hazardous materials and specialist of paramedic. You can get a fire investigator, bomb technician and Fire Rescue professional but a person may want to go to a Montgomery County because of some of the additional features, benefits and options that we have inside the Fire Department. Those benefits may not be available in other fire departments, so it’s a recruiting tool that we have to attract professionals. One of our ways to address the changes in the workforce and create attention in a career is to make community environment in the organization.
Diversity in Fire Department:
Nagender Madavaram: Diversity is strength to reach new immigrants when they needed your services. How are you encouraging diversified groups enter into Fire Department?
Scott Goldstein: So, its dependence, where we go out to market ourselves and recruit. How the nontraditional communities can serve in the fire service and how they can join in profession? We have a system and a scaling process. It’s advertised when we do our announcement that we give preference to county resident. We give preference to people who speak additional languages beyond English. We give preference to people who have military experience and paramedic certification. So, our goal is to get the organization to reflect the diversity of our community we serve. The best Ways and Means is to hire folks from within the community that they’re serving and that’s one of our paths. The other component deals with vocational training and getting folks to understand. I mean, when I was a 19-year-old, I got hired. Folks should recognize that you can jump into the fire service with a high school diploma. You don’t need to have an associate degree. It’s not a vocational job. Like industry trades, you don’t have to go to college to get a college degree to jump into the fire service. It’s a place of great opportunity to get into the organization for nontraditional applicants. We’re recruiting them actively.
Qualification for Fire Fighter:
Nagender Madavaram: You mentioned that high school diploma is a qualification for your employee. What about candidates with higher degrees? Do you give them any preference?
Scott Goldstein: I said previously, there’s no requirement of higher education degree. You have two levels of points; you get one point for having some college degree and you get another point for having an associate degree. People ask me why is that? I think, a degree creates the person additional critical thinking skills. You can’t get a degree just by taking random classes that you want to take for credit hours. You have to have those components of communications written as well as verbal. You know, social and psychological factors that put you into a degree program. It also garners additional level of learning as I said, the fire environment is changing rapidly. You can’t be a stale knowledge. What I knew when I started 31 years ago would be no good today because so much has changed. So, it’s best to have a person who has already achieved higher learning. It shows that they are open to learning and continuing that process of learning.
Nagender Madavaram: Fire Department has a budget of $ 132,000,000. Do you have other professionals in Fire Department?
Scott Goldstein: Absolutely, we have technology services and we work a lot with the county Technology Department. Like our Police friends upstairs, we have a lot of documentation and reporting requirements. We rely upon the poor team of IT specialists. The IT team is there to design, support and maintain the technology systems that we’re using. So that is a direct part of our professional and civilian staff that is internally in the Fire Rescue. You know, just down the hall here at headquarters we have internal department to look after software applications. All applications that are specific to us and we use them to report to other departments because we have to report.
Nagender Madavaram: What is Montgomery County’s SafeKids Coalition? How it works?
Scott Goldstein: I think you described our job is to protect lives and to save lives. Step back before that and say my number one job is to prevent the 911 call and prevent the emergency situation. We can do that by legislation, through safety controls working on making sure the environment is safer. One way, we do that by encouraging to have a car seat and a bicycle helmet. So, the same kids coalition educate our young and old generation and teach people how to be safe. They also need to understand how to be safe in their new environment. They should be safe as seniors in our community, and as safe kids. The best approaches are to encourage people to have bicycle helmet and car seat. So, it’s a way, I mean, this collaboration of multiple county departments and the community, a lot of which is our healthcare and our automobile dealership. Offering car seats installations and vouchers attract the community’s attention because our little residents need that level of protection. I grew up, not wearing a seat belt and riding in the back of car of Station Wagon or other things like that. We know how and what needs toa keep people safe and inside the car. Car seat safety is the number one tool for the youngest of our community. We’re getting out of COVID you know there be four to five events a week throughout the year and across the county. We saw that for each event hundreds of people would show up. Some of them would be checking to ensure that that car seat was installed properly, the car seat was the right size for their loved ones. Some people request that my nephew is coming and we are going to get this car seat installed in this car. How do we do it? SafeKids Coalition takes care of that installation. Same thing with bicycle helmets and bicycle training. We have a team that works with our Recreation Department and our schools. You know, MCPS and our private schools are on these outreach programs for education.