NVFC Provides Resources For Retention & Recruitment

Heather Schafer reports on the challenge of recruiting and retaining volunteer firefighters and pinpoints the reasons.


The National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) has long been on the forefront of recruitment and retention issues affecting the volunteer fire and emergency services. From retention and recruitment research, workshops, kits, legislative initiatives, innovative programs like Fire Corps and Fire Line...


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The National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) has long been on the forefront of recruitment and retention issues affecting the volunteer fire and emergency services. From retention and recruitment research, workshops, kits, legislative initiatives, innovative programs like Fire Corps and Fire Line, NVFC recognized early on the need to maintain the existing ranks within a department while at the same time promoting recruitment to gain new members.

In both the mid-1980s and mid-1990s, the NVFC, in conjunction with the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), conducted research on recruitment and retention challenges and solutions. The project was the culmination of interviews with hundreds of departments to determine the difficulty facing the dwindling ranks of the volunteer fire service. In the past decade, there has been a 15% decline in the number of volunteer firefighters nationwide. The reason: lack of time. No matter where the department was located, its budget or leadership, the main reason for the decline in the ranks was due to the amount of time it takes to be trained to be a volunteer firefighter and to maintain certification and standing within the department.

Today, the NVFC and the USFA are collaborating on a project that will update past reports and offer workshops to fire departments on successful retention and recruitment techniques. The project began with the analysis of variables that motivate volunteers to stay and leave emergency service organizations, as well as an analysis of what their volunteer services "save" their communities in annualized costs. These "motivators" were then analyzed for specifics and will be detailed along with several case studies in the final document to be released later this year. The research conducted found two major reasons for members leaving the ranks: no time to volunteer and poor or inadequate leadership; while motivators to stay are as varied as the local communities, making recruitment and retention a local issue.

Legislative Initiatives

The NVFC has also taken a lead role in promoting legislation at the federal level aimed at addressing recruitment and retention. When the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant program was created by Congress, it included NVFC-backed provisions that set aside 10% of the funding for volunteer recruitment and retention grants. NVFC offered assistance to state fire associations in applying for funding. In addition, the program includes a requirement that at least 10% of the funds for hiring firefighters go to volunteer and majority volunteer departments and that any firefighter hired under this program is not discriminated against for or prohibited from engaging in volunteer activities in another jurisdiction during off-duty hours.

In addition, the NVFC is pursuing the passage of two bills to provide federal tax benefits to volunteer fire and EMS personnel. The Supporting Emergency Responders Volunteer Efforts (SERVE) Act would provide a $1,000 annual tax credit for active members of volunteer fire and EMS organizations. The Volunteer Responder Incentive Protection Act would prevent the IRS from taxing the nominal compensation awarded to local volunteer firefighters and emergency medical responders for service to their communities.

Finally, the NVFC soon will be seeking changes to the IRS code to simplify the requirements for length of service award programs (LOSAPs) under the IRS Code, so that they can be more universally available despite differing methods of compensating emergency services volunteers across the country. In addition, we will be looking for the IRS to permit the treatment of LOSAPs as "eligible deferred compensation plans" maintained by a governmental employer, even if the LOSAP sponsor is an independent tax-exempt entity, not a municipality.

Other Resources

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