Recruiting brave women and men to endanger their lives while safeguarding their community may seem like a great job, but when you throw in that it’s a volunteer position, it may be difficult to convince some to join. It isn’t breaking news that volunteering in the firefighting field is decreasing nationwide. Many factors are playing a role. Okay, okay, I admit. You can put some blame on the tough economic times. People who used to volunteer in their off-time find themselves working longer hours or multiple jobs to make ends meet, leaving little or no room for volunteering as firefighters.
So how do you go about it? How do you recruit new people to join a local department without throwing rainbows and unicorns their way? Here are a few suggestions:
Make the Application Process Quick
When a fire department creates volunteer firefighter applications, it’s important to make the application process speedy. While ensuring the process is swift, it’s also essential to be thorough. Keeping the volunteer firefighter application process fast ensures interested volunteers don’t lose interest during a long application process. If volunteer fire department application requires field eligibility tests, you may want to consider them. Not only does this type of testing allow you to determine the physical fitness of new members, but it also allows the applicants to understand their own physical limitations.
Ensure Volunteer Firefighters Know what is Expected of Them
When recruiting volunteer firefighters, it’s important to be completely honest about what is expected from a volunteer firefighter. Making sure interested volunteers understand what the requirements of volunteering at a local department requires guarantees that you will get volunteers who are willing and ready to make the commitment and sacrifices needed to have a successful department. The best way to make sure interested volunteers know what is expected of them is to train often.
As a volunteer firefighter recruit, you’ll be expected to:
- Put yourself in life-threatening situations, such as crawling through tight spaces, going into burning buildings, and entering other unsafe environments.
- Keep a clear mind in life or death situations
- Be composed when assisting traumatic events like car crash fatalities and injuries.
Highlight Opportunities for Growth
Potential firefighter volunteers may not know about the many benefits the fire service can offer, such as the public service scholarship program and Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF). Departments should highlight all the different specialized skills and benefits fire training brings. To retain volunteer firefighters, departments create recognition programs to make them feel challenged and appreciated by rewarding their hard work.
Invest in Online Engagement
Recent studies indicate that most people look for job options online. Consequently, fire departments need to make themselves visible online along with doing community recruitment events. Departments can use social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook to advertise the advantages of firefighting, show what firefighters do, highlight individual and department accomplishments, and enlighten potential volunteers on how they can join the fire service.
An organized website is also a useful way to attract potential volunteers. The website must be user-friendly and easy to navigate. Information about recruitment events and volunteer opportunities should be listed on the homepage. This is also the ideal place to upload video clips and post testimonials to further promote volunteering.
Encourage Current Members to Train New Members
Irrespective of your location, if you walk into any fire department across the country, you’re liable to find an old timer. With a raspy voice, sooty helmet and gray hair, the old-time firefighters are the ones everyone looks up to. Furthermore, you don’t get to be a veteran without doing some things right. The best way to ensure volunteer firefighters understand the expectations and procedures of volunteer fire departments is to have veterans train the newbies.
Create an Explorer Program
To lure volunteer firefighters, volunteer fire departments need to have strong Explorer programs. The Explorer program is started for girls and boys, ages fourteen to twenty that have an interest in obtaining a firefighter certification in the future. Devoting time and energy to grow this program in your community could provide you with a steady stream of volunteers who are really interested in becoming volunteer firefighters for life.
Brand Your Fire Department
“Branding” is more than just a symbol or name. It summarizes the message you want the community to think or feel about your fire department. Building a strong brand for you, determine the personality and identify your distinctive niche you want your company to convey.
Seek a Professional’s Help
Because of fire departments’ busy schedules, firefighting employees might not have the time for recruitment and marketing. Hire a professional that recognizes budgetary limitations, understands the concept of marketing and recruitment for fire departments, and that is enjoyable to work with. And don’t forget to ask to see samples of work they have done for other fire departments to see if their marketing strategies are right for you.
Ways to Serve Your Local Fire Department
If becoming a volunteer firefighter isn’t for you, there are numerous ways you can still help your local fire department. Here are just a few ideas:
- Teaching fire safety to children
- Installing smoke alarms in area homes
- Maintaining the department’s social media and website
- Cooking for the on-duty staff
- Executing home safety checks
- Distributing disaster preparedness materials
Attracting and retaining good volunteer firefighters is among the problems facing fire departments today. Volunteers are one of the most economical solutions to the snowballing cost of providing quality fire protection to communities. Effective community fire protection depends on the ability of fire departments to attract, recruit, train and retain these key individuals.
There are countless ways to recruit and retain volunteer firefighters. However, the volunteer agency should make sure that it’s not extending benefits that could lead to a loss of the volunteer status. Loss of such a status could result in lawsuits, loss of disability protections and loss of life insurance offered to volunteer firefighters. Check with your attorney to determine whether any retention or recruitment program may result in a loss of the volunteer status.