Membership drives to improve response times

The possibilities for recruitment are endless for fire departments


With the current economic downturn, volunteerism is declining as more people travel farther to seek work or work multiple jobs, leaving less time for activities such as volunteering. With fewer volunteers, response times and ultimately service delivery suffer. What can you do to counter these major issues?

First and foremost is recruitment and retention. Volunteer organizations need to think about recruiting volunteers today, and developing a pool of potential recruits. Think outside the box!

Have you recruited "non-traditional" volunteers? These include retired individuals that can be used for support staff to release other volunteers to emergency response. In addition, persons with impairments can serve their community in a variety of roles.

These roles include dispatching, fund raising, clerical, maintenance and other roles. Time for a history lesson: During the American Civil War (1861-1865), wounded Union soldiers that may have been otherwise unable to serve were utilized for light duty assignments such as guard duty, escorting prisoners, etc.

More than 60,000 Americans served in the Veterans Reserve Corps during the war, releasing other troops for front line service.

How can you best use the "non-traditional" volunteer in your community? Emergency services are labor intensive, and all types of people can serve. I have worked with many older Americans serving their communities as volunteers.

Some of these had been volunteers for years, so it only makes sense to use their skills and experience in a support role. These roles have included Fire Police, pump operator, safety officer, filling SCBA cylinders, rehab/support and other duties.

A retired truck driver with a commercial license may be an ideal candidate for support water tender operator. Retired nurses and other medical professionals can easily staff ambulances, depending on their capabilities or assist in medical billing and other support functions.

Obviously there are limitations that must be considered regarding safety and capabilities. However, the advantages of utilizing non-traditional volunteers is real.

The potential for impact on response capabilities is considerable if traditional volunteers are released from other responsibilities. With work, family, and other responsibilities, our volunteer responders need a respite from other duties.

It is difficult to ask your family for more time away from home for non-emergency functions. The volunteer emergency services have no choice but to obtain as much help as possible from a variety of individuals, or service delivery will suffer.

How does your organization recruit volunteers? You would be amazed how many people do not even know that there are volunteer emergency services in their communities.

This leads one to believe that we are not doing a very good job of marketing our organizations. In today's society, marketing is everything. You need to work hard to get the word out, not only for recruitment, but for fundraising and other support.

These include:

  • Use word of mouth to get information about your organization to your community
  • Develop a web site for your department
  • Register with FireDepartmentDirectory.com as a quick way to get information out
  • Use free business listings on the Internet
  • Use local TV and radio announcements
  • Have local newspapers cover your events

Some departments utilize fire explorer posts with the potential of recruiting these young people as volunteers once they reach the required age for being a volunteer. Why not adopt or work with another youth organization such as school or church groups to get volunteers into your organization?

The possibilities for recruitment are endless. Have you approached your local high school to address the graduating class and encourage them to join your ranks? Why not?

Additional recruitment and retention information is available from the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC). Some states have been proactive in recent years and are participating in initiatives including the SAFER grant program to assist in recruiting and retaining volunteer firefighters. Contact your State Firefighters Association or State Fire Marshal's office for additional information.

Remember, as volunteers we are required to follow consensus standards. These include NFPA 1720 Standard for the Organization and Deployment of Fire Suppression Operations, Emergency Medical Operations and Special Operations to the Public by Volunteer Fire Departments and OSHA Standards including the two in/two out rule for interior structural firefighting.

Failure to follow these standards creates severe firefighter safety concerns, as well as opening your department up to litigation should a loss occur.

In the information age, we should also take advantage of technological solutions on the market that help in decision making and improving response times, particular in the areas of firefighter accountability and response coordination and planning.

The bottom line to all of this information is to recruit and retain a variety of volunteers, capable of meeting your organizations mission, and improving the service you provide safely to your community.

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