Volunteer Roundtable: Recruiting & Retention

The two-part Command Post series "The Decline and Fall of the Volunteer Fire Service?" by Contributing Editor Harry R. Carter, Ph.D., in the February and March issues of Firehouse generated much reaction from volunteer fire chiefs, company officers and...


The two-part Command Post series “The Decline and Fall of the Volunteer Fire Service?†by Contributing Editor Harry R. Carter, Ph.D., in the February and March issues of Firehouse® Magazine generated much reaction from volunteer fire chiefs, company officers and firefighters. We asked a...


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The two-part Command Post series “The Decline and Fall of the Volunteer Fire Service?†by Contributing Editor Harry R. Carter, Ph.D., in the February and March issues of Firehouse® Magazine generated much reaction from volunteer fire chiefs, company officers and firefighters. We asked a sampling of them to participate in a roundtable discussion of recruitment and retention issues. The discussion centered on whether their fire departments have problems recruiting new members and retaining existing members, innovative ways in which they have tried to correct these problems, and whether they see the situation getting better or worse in the future.

TIMOTHY S. WALL
Timothy S. Wall is chief of the North Farms Volunteer Fire Department in Wallingford, CT, and has over 20 years of volunteer fire service. Wall is chairman of the Volunteer and Combination Officers Section of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) and a member of the Connecticut Fire Chiefs’ Association recruiting and retention committee.

Firehouse: Does your fire department have a problem recruiting new members?
Wall: No, not a problem, but a challenge. It is something that a recruiting committee works on every year.

Firehouse: Why is this?
Wall: I think that a lack of communication or informing the community that you need new members and maybe the department doesn’t recognize you need new members.

Firehouse: Does your fire department have a problem retaining existing members? Why is this?
Wall: I would say not a problem, but it goes with the territory of recruiting. Some move on because it is not for them, different jobs or they get hired somewhere else. The key point is to recognize if many are leaving. You have to find out why – is it your requirements, the leadership of the department, is it what your department provides to the members?

Firehouse: What innovative ways have you tried to correct these problems?
Wall: Starting with the officers and your recruiting committee to improve leadership and having organized recruiting drives with a group effort from external and internal members. Coordination of your training classes, whether Fire 1, EMR, MRT coexist with your recruiting efforts. Your department should show leadership, professionalism and encourage that you need new members. When they come on board, help them with their education and make them feel welcome. Establish a Length of Service Awards Program (LOSAP) or tax abatement for your existing members along with significant and proper insurance coverage. Reward them for their success; i.e., uniforms, department T-shirts, etc.

Firehouse: Do you see things getting better or worse in the future?
Wall: I’ll take this one case by case, for your department is what you make it. The challenge is making individuals welcome and making sure that their time is not wasted for them. Today’s officer has to be proactive in understanding the needs of the recruit. I believe people will volunteer if you tell them they are needed in their community and you reward them for what they do for their community. It is a problem if you ignore it. If your department is proactive and has a recruiting plan and marketing plan, this will ensure that you have flow of new recruits.


JOHN J. CUDO
John J. Cudo is a 32-year member of Taylor, PA, Hose & Engine Company 1, where he has been assistant fire chief, trustee, recording secretary, president and vice president. He is a member of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Volunteer Fireman’s Federation and Pennsylvania State Fireman’s Association. Cudo served for 23 years as volunteer emergency management coordinator for the Borough of Taylor, 10 years as a volunteer deputy director of the Lackawanna County Emergency Management Agency and 10 years as a volunteer on the Lackawanna County Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC). He also has worked as a seasonal forest fire patrolman for the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

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