Volunteer fire, EMS recruit and retain program launched

NVFC used Giving Tuesday to push its Make Me a Firefighter campaign to build public awareness and provide departments with the tools and resources to recruit and retain


WASHINGTON — The National Volunteer Fire Council launched a nationwide recruitment campaign Tuesday to increase the number of volunteers in fire and emergency services.

The Make Me a Firefighter campaign will help build awareness among the public as well as provide departments with the tools and resources to recruit and retain volunteer firefighters.

"Volunteers are critical to our nation's fire and emergency services," NVFC Chairman Kevin Quinn said. "The number of volunteer firefighters has declined over the past three decades and our call volume has tripled. At the same time, the volunteer fire service is aging and we have fewer younger volunteers ready to take over for the older volunteers."

The NVFC was awarded a FEMA SAFER grant to launch the Make Me a Firefighter campaign, which consists of a portal where volunteer and combination departments can register and post volunteer opportunities.

"We’re proud to help departments strengthen their recruitment and retention efforts through this campaign, as well as raise awareness among the public in a meaningful way that can answer the call to serve their community in a hands-on way," Quinn said.

The campaign hopes to inform the public about the need of new volunteers, including under-represented audiences such as Millennials ages 18-34, women and minorities.

Fire Chief Juan Bonilla, with the Donnelly (Idaho) Rural Fire Protection District, spoke at NVFC's press conference about why he became involved with the Make Me a Firefighter campaign.

"Coming from a small rural community, difficulty in finding the potential firefighters and EMTs has forced us to find different ways on how to recruit volunteers," Chief Bonilla said. "Our main challenge is generational and traditional gap in the ranks. We have found that the biggest problem is fear of change and tradition with our veteran volunteers."

Chief Bonilla said the campaign was designed to help departments overcome the hurdle of recruiting volunteers by reaching previously untapped audiences.

Tracey Berry, membership secretary with the Odenton (Md.) Volunteer Fire Company, also talked about how she helps with recruiting at her department. Berry spoke about how taking kids on station tours, showing turnout gear and the back of the ambulance helps keep those kids at ease when crews show up on scene at an emergency.

"It's not about running lights and sirens," Berry said. "It's going out there and holding a patient's hand and telling them, 'Look, don't stress. I'm here. I'll take care of you. Just relax.' It truly is the toughest job you will ever love. And when you love what you do, it is no longer work."

Carla Barrera, a volunteer EMS candidate with the Gaithersburg Washington (Md.) Grove Volunteer Fire Department, became a volunteer through the junior firefighter brigade program when she was 16.

"For me, the biggest thing that made me want to become a volunteer is that I've actually been on the other side of the stretcher and I know what it's like to be in the back of an ambulance and be scared senseless," Barrera said. "From what I remember, I had EMTs helping me to stay calm and make sure I made it to the hospital."

Barrera had a blood clot that traveled to her lungs when she was out to dinner with her brothers. All she remembers is hitting the floor.

"It was in the middle of a huge thunderstorm, trees were falling, cable lines were down, and my brothers found a fire station and banged on their garage doors," she said. "Luckily, they were there, got me into the back of an ambulance and I remember hearing EMTs saying that I was going to be OK."

She said that incident made her want to become a volunteer and become someone's saving grace one day.

"I just wanted to be there for somebody like they were there for me," she said.

Meghan Quinn, a volunteer firefighter and EMT with the Glen Echo (Md.) Fire Department, said she first started volunteering because of the adrenaline rush. But as she's spent more time as a volunteer, it’s no longer the driving force of why she continues to volunteer.

"It's now about the people I meet and the impact I can have on them," Meghan Quinn said. "During my junior year of college, my ambulance crew and I responded to what was a pretty normal call for us. An elderly patient had tripped down a flight a stairs, injured herself, and her spouse called 911."

She began assessing the patient, who later told her that she couldn’t feel her feet. They took the patient to a trauma center.

"About two and a half months after that call, a 'Thank You' note showed up at the station from this patient," she said. "After we had left the hospital that night, the trauma team told her that she had fractured three cervical vertebrae and if it had not been for the way my crew had transported her that she may not be able to walk anymore."

Meghan Quinn said she never realized the impact she could have on someone until that call.

"I realized that this is why I volunteer. I don't do it for myself. I volunteer for my community and for the people I'm going to help," she said.

You can learn more about the campaign here. Volunteer and combination departments can sign up here to join the campaign and showcase volunteer opportunities.

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