As stated in Part 1 of this article, there is a significant parallel between the Marine Corps and the fire service. The character makeup that compels a person to join one is the very same character that brings them to join the other. Both agencies have dangerous missions, involve selfless service, and require a great deal of sacrifice for the greater good. They are both elite organizations, a band of brothers and sisters, comprised of people who no longer want to be just another face in the crowd, but want to belong to an organization whose mission is bigger than them.
My question was, and remains, how can a Marine recruiter compel men and woman from your very communities into giving up four to six years of their life to the unknown, and you can’t seem to get anyone to give up a couple hours a week to serve their neighbors? As a former Marine recruiter, and having been responsible for the recruitment and retention of volunteer firefighters here at my department, I can attest that there is a lot the fire service could learn from the Marine Corps recruiting program and a lot we need to do differently.
Why People Join the Marines
First, let me dispel the very argument you are thinking right now – people join the Marines for tangible things such as a job or college money. While in a few cases this may be true, I can assure you that, by and large, it is false. Of the more than 70 people I recruited for the Marines in three years, less than five walked into my office, and less than 50% had any intention of joining the military. Yet, here they were joining the toughest branch – the Marines.
Even those who came in with military intentions, what made them choose the Marines over the other services? A private in the Marines is paid the same as a private in the Army, an airman in the Air Force and a seaman in the Navy. All branches have the same benefits and 20-year retirement; and while the G.I Bill offers the same amount of college money to all branches, other services can at times offer more money for college than the Marines, or more specialized training, or more comfort during their enlistment. So, again, out of all the choices, why the Marines, where they will undergo a longer, tougher boot camp, spend time in foxholes, deploy numerous times and probably serve in combat?
There must be something else these candidates are looking for and the Marine recruiter knows how to find it. Right now there are neighbors in your community who are looking for more out of life. They are looking for a change, a challenge, to give back, for fulfillment, you name it. They can find what they are looking for in your department – they just don’t know it yet. You have to find it and show it to them. These are called intangibles, things people want or need that you cannot touch – such as pride, teamwork – what you feel like every time you respond or come back from a call. It’s that inner feeling that is so large it sends you into burning buildings.
Developing A Plan To Recruit
But there is a raging river between your neighbor’s intangible needs and the fire service. Where we go wrong is we have pride in that raging river and expect anyone that joins our side to swim across. Your neighbor, however, doesn’t see how swimming across the raging river is worth it or will fulfill that nagging intangible need inside. So, they move on. What we need to start doing is change the way we project ourself, and approach recruiting by building a bridge for them to cross – to show them how they can fulfill their needs by crossing the river.
First – Do you really want volunteers? While this may seem an obvious answer, you need to give it some thought. Many departments talk about needing volunteers, but make no effort to recruit, or even worse, retain them. If you want to fill your volunteer ranks, it will take a concentrated effort. And for that effort, you have to commit yourself. You have to want more than numbers. You have to want the people who make those numbers.