The Volunteer & Combination Officers Section (VCOS) of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) is dedicated to helping chief fire officers who manage volunteers within a volunteer or combination fire, rescue or EMS department. Our mission is to provide these chief officers with information, education, services and representation to enhance their professionalism. Today, it is more important then ever to be a part of this leadership organization. VCOS provides several avenues to obtain information, training, networking and assistance to today's fire service.
The VCOS board of directors consists of 10 members who are elected by members of the section. Each board member serves a three-year term. The board has quarterly business meetings at different locations throughout the U.S. Two board meetings are asked to be hosted by a fire department or fire association. The board meetings are held at different locations to let members interface with fire departments across the country. This is a two-fold approach. We develop interaction with other chief officers who face critical issues and concerns such as recruitment and retention.
We encourage active chief officers to get involved with VCOS in part by becoming members. The section offers two forms of membership, full and affiliated. Applications for membership can be obtained by visiting the VCOS website, www.vcos.org. You must hold the rank of an active chief officer and be a member of the IAFC.
Whether individuals are knocking on your door to volunteer, or not, you need to have a strategic plan in place for recruitment and retention. Look into your own department needs for membership and what type of members you would like to recruit for your agency.
One of the problems with recruitment and retention is that there is no plan in place to receive members. It is beneficial and professional to have a program in place so that when you are looking for people to help there is a way to explain to them their requirements and your department's requirements. When you are ready to strategically plan your recruitment and retention plan, there are several different avenues in which to obtain information.
One such avenue is the VCOS "Symposium in the Sun." This year's program is the seventh annual Educational Symposium sponsored by the IAFC. The Symposium in the Sun will take place Nov. 10-13, 2005, at the Sheraton Sand Key in Clearwater Beach, FL. This is a national program for leaders who manage volunteers in a volunteer and combination department.
The four-day educational conference features a pre-conference workshop, "Mastering Leadership," on Thursday, followed by conference sessions on Friday from 8 A.M. to 4 P.M., Saturday from 8 A.M. to 1 P.M. and Sunday from 8 to 11 A.M.
This year's conference sessions include "ISO, Friend or Foe?," "Changes That Will Rock Your World," "Leading the Combination Department: The Search for the Holy Grail," "Cultural Combat Tactics: Addressing Safety Culture in Your Organization," "What Do They See When They See You Coming?," "Integrity Pursued," "Industrial Strength Additive: Partnering With Industry to Enhance Emergency Services," "The Fire Corps: What Does It Mean to You?," "Fire Department Leadership: A Key to Your Future," "What the Chief Executive Expects of His/Her Fire Chief," "Firefighter Injury/LODD Prevention Update" and "The Fire Service: Past, Present and Future."
We focus on the opportunity to enhance your education by offering top-notch speakers and presenters with topics that affect us in our day-in, day-out duties as chief officers. This is geared toward TEAM building:
21st CENTURY LEADERSHIP COURSE
Another venue for information on help with recruitment and retention is the "21st Century Leadership Course." This educational class will give you the knowledge and skills to bring your department forward into the 21st century. This course covers such vital topics as:
- Recruitment & Retention: Problem Solving
- Leadership: The Key to Success
- Creating a Winning Image: Team Building
The course consists of lecture, videos, hands-on activities and class participation. The cost to the host department is that of providing one room for each of the two instructors for two nights and as well as meals and transportation to and from the airport. Some audio/visual equipment is also required. We prefer a regional delivery to more then one department in an area.
If you are interested in this course, please contact Amber Wells, the IAFC liaison to VCOS, at 785-423-0209 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Please book your dates early, and note that we prefer a regional delivery to more than one department in your area.
Your local Pierce fire/EMS apparatus dealer may consider supporting a proposed Leadership Course. Pierce makes a donation to the VCOS from the sale of vehicles that are purchased, and in turn the VCOS handles the logistics in presenting a class in your area. Reasonable registration fees may be charged to participants to recoup host costs. Please assure that the VCOS is aware of this prior to the workshop.
VCOS aligns itself with several different agencies and programs that help us to educate and promote the volunteer fire service for chief officers throughout the United States. One of our partners that we work with is the Fire Corps. Following the 2002 State of the Union Address by President George W. Bush, many of the leaders of the fire service began to talk about what we could do to get the fire service on board to partner with the Citizens Corps as a component of the emergency service circle. Included in the Citizens Corps at that time were the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Program, Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) Program, Neighborhood Watch Program (NWP) and Volunteers in Police Service (VIPS), but obviously missing was the fire service community.
The partnership with the Fire Corps began as a three-organization team, IAFC-VCOS, the International Association of Fire Firefighters (IAFF) and the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC). The three have agreed to build and promote and partner as we continue to grow under the banner of the Fire Corps.
The Fire Corps is designed to assist and provide a service to all the fire service, be it career, volunteer or combination; it makes no difference. We all have tasks, jobs, functions and duties that can be preformed and in most cases even better by a civilian. For additional Fire Corps information, please visit www.firecorp.org.
One of the purposes of the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Firefighters Act (SAFER Act) grant program is for the recruitment and retention of volunteer firefighters, which provides assistance to awardees for periods of up to four years. Volunteer departments, combination departments, and local or statewide organizations that represent the interests of volunteer firefighters are eligible to apply for assistance under this program.
When you apply, you need to have your plan in place; i.e., designing of pamphlets, helping with reimbursements for training, rewarding graduates of recruit classes with shirts or uniforms, designing of billboards, and, yes, maybe paying a coordinator of this program. For more information, go to www.firegrantsupport.com or call 866-274-0960.
The other avenue is the U.S. Fire Administration Office. You can contact the publications center at 301-447-1189 or visit www.usfa.fema.gov. You can go to this site and order publications online. The documents are free, but there is a quantity limit.
Timothy S. Wall is a volunteer fire chief with the North Farms Volunteer Fire Department in Wallingford, CT. He has 20-plus years of service as a volunteer firefighter. Wall is chairman of the Connecticut Firefighters Association recruitment and retention program and works with the Connecticut Fire Academy's 1-800-Fire-Line. He is a 10-year member of the IAFC's Volunteer & Combination Officers Section (VCOS) board of directors, of which he is chairman. Wall can be reached at 203-265-7173 or firewallCo7@cs.com.