VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – The Virginia Beach Fire Department is looking for the next generation of firefighters to join them.

Deputy Chief Amy Valdez and Training Captain Dustin Lyle spoke to Digital Host Sarah Goode at the WAVY Digital Desk about the department, training, and recruitment efforts. Watch the full conversation in the video player on this page.

They have more than 550 uniformed employees at the department. They work in a variety of environments within the city of Virginia Beach. There are urban, beach, rural and suburban areas. Different types of firefighting and different types of responses are needed for different situations that arise.

The department also has personnel that works across the country. They are one of 28 urban search and rescue teams that sponsor Virginia Task Force 2. They serve as host agency.

VBFD is actively recruiting. Like other first responders across the nation, they are facing staffing shortages. Valdez said they are looking for their next generation of firefighters.

“We’re trying to make sure that people recognize the value in how rewarding it is to be in the fire department and how rewarding it is to serve your community and help others,” Valdez said.

Valdez joined the department after someone suggested the fire service to her — something she said she feels blessed by today.

“I came in with no knowledge or experience of what the training was going to be like,” Valdez said, “what the physical aspects were like and what the opportunities were. So, I had to learn all that on the fly.”

Now, she says the new pre-hire prep program and recruitment efforts are much more developed for those looking to join.

Lyle said there are many intentions of the program. An originating thought was how to make the experience better for the recruit and the department.

They want to show how exciting and team-oriented the work is as well as how rewarding the job can be. To do this they use a holistic approach, helping with the understanding of physical preparedness, mental toughness, skills and more. It’s about understanding what is this job.

“If you have a desire to join the public service sector, what are you getting into and how can we make you successful in that career,” said Lyle.

Some parts of the program include learning about working the ladder, being in tight spaces and working with a full mask and uniform on.

A new academy class begins Thursday. Fifty-two new hires will begin to train to join the department after about 28 weeks. They want the whole class to graduate. But, they know that might not be possible. They say about 20% will not make it to graduation.

“Our intention from day one is to graduate 52 people. What can we do from a departmental perspective to kind of make that happen? And, that’s what the intent of the program is for,” said Lyle.

They hope the pre-hire prep will prepare hires to be successful both while in the academy and the department.

It is also intended to show what the real day to day is like. Valdez says it is both. Some days the department might be fighting fires in Virginia Beach, or helping with the Task Force with relief for hurricanes or fires. Sometimes it means cleaning the station, washing the trucks, train and make dinner.

Even with a staffing shortage, and low graduation rate, the standards do not lower. It’s something Valdez and Lyle emphasized.

“There is a discipline and a respect and personality that the men and women of our great city demand from us,” Lyle said.

For those looking to join the fire service, they want you to know that if you want to join, they will support you.

“If you have an interest in the fire service, we have an interest in you,” Valdez said, “and we’re going to help make you prepared and ready for the physical, emotional, mental, and academic challenges that sit in front of you.”

Lyle said one of the best ways to learn more is to stop by a firehouse. Get to know the men and women on-site, ask them questions, and get advice.

For more information on the Virginia Beach Fire Department and their training or recruitment efforts, click here.

Watch the full conversation to hear more from Deputy Chief Amy Valdez and Training Captain Dustin Lyle.