Tips for Retaining and Recruiting Town Volunteers
Volunteer Fire-Fighter Recruitment and Retention Ideas
With the disclaimer that “the best solution is a local solution,” and that what works great in one town may not necessarily work in another, here's what I consistently hear: Without question, the best tool of all is a “cadets,” “juniors,” or “explorer's” program. Departments that pull them in when they are 14 do best, followed by departments that pull them in at age 16. Working with local OSHA officials, many departments have creatively designed programs that give the older kids a chance to actually go to work under certain conditions, though obviously not interior firefighting. Some departments run these kids through the whole firefighter I training. That way when the kids come of age, it's a breeze to get them certified and put them to work. The next best recruitment tool seems to be running an MRT or EMT training course. It pulls in members of the public. While some may just be looking for free training to start a career, departments often find it a fertile ground for new recruits. This holds true, even if the department itself is only a secondary responder. Once you have the audience in the tent, you have their attention. Third on the list is a presentation at the first PTA or PTO meeting of the school year, letting people know that the fire department has a table in the hallway, and that after the meeting, if they'd like to learn more, to stop by the table. The presentation typically nets two categories of people. Moms who have time on their hands between the time the kids go to school and the time they come home. This is a great source of daytime help. The second category is the Dad who either came on his own or was dragged along. All of a sudden there's another type of volunteerism put in front of his nose, and it sounds like maybe it could be a lot more fun. Statewide, it helps when departments use the national recruitment and retention number 1-800-FIRELINE. People get inspired to respond to the call at odd times and odd places. We get people who saw an 800 sign in Norwich and want to volunteer in Greenwich, just because they heard something on the radio that clicked. Last but not least, the organization has to give off a “welcoming vibe.” More than one department was aghast at tattoos and piercings until one day, they ran out of manpower. Suddenly, all those “punks” turned out to be pretty responsible kids who made great volunteers. Because in any department the “down” time is always greater than the “action” time, the quality of the “down” time actually matters more than the perfection of the “action” time. If people are used to getting along off the fire ground, they have a lot better odds of working well together on the fire ground. While every organization has cliques, it is important that the department as a whole make the newcomer feel welcome and included. Some departments use a simple symbolic gesture to drive the point home. They let the new member try on a set of turnout gear, hang it in somewhere where he can always see it, and tell him it's his as soon as he completes the program (whatever the program happens to be). Later on, they can always replace the symbolic gear with stuff that actually fits.As good or bad as some of these ideas may be, every department is different, and its fun to be creative. Some departments run a food booth at the local county fair. Some departments have Iron Chef competitions. Some departments have Christmas parties for the neighborhood kids. Some departments have demonstrations of extrication techniques at car shows, which are typically well-attended events. Whatever course of action a volunteer organization chooses to take, most importantly, the affirmative act of forming a recruitment committee, particularly where one or more other town officials are included, creates a linking of various cliques to form a joint venture to advance the department and the recruitment agenda. Best of all, if the committee itself is seen as having fun advancing their recruitment agenda, it can sometimes create a bandwagon effect that eventually develops enough momentum to solves the recruitment problem as presently perceived.
Roberto (Rob) Lucheme, Esq., Volunteer Recruitment and Retention Coordinator, Commission on Fire Prevention and Control, State of Connecticut
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