There seems to be a myth about the recruitment of volunteer firefighters in this country. Many would lead you to believe that we – the volunteer fire service of America – are having a difficult time recruiting members. We contend, however, that this is just a myth. Oh, you say you...
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There seems to be a myth about the recruitment of volunteer firefighters in this country. Many would lead you to believe that we – the volunteer fire service of America – are having a difficult time recruiting members. We contend, however, that this is just a myth.
Oh, you say you disagree? You personally are having trouble with recruitment? Many others you know are having the same difficulty and you want to know why we think the recruitment problem is just a myth? We’re going to tell you why we believe it is a myth, but first let’s talk about what you say is a problem, recruitment.
Let us follow your way of thinking for just a minute; let’s say we are having difficulties in our recruitment process. Let’s take a look at the big picture together.
Beyond the fire service, who is a “volunteer” within the community? How can we identify such a person? What qualifies a person to take on a volunteer position and how can we pick him or her out of the community in which we live, work and raise our families?
A study done some years ago, but that still holds true today, profiled a “typical volunteer” (if there is such a thing). The study revealed that the average age of those who volunteer in the community is between 35 and 45 years old; one-quarter of the volunteer population is under 30 or over 65, and they are split equally between male and female. They can be white- or blue-collar workers.
So, our first question is, are we even looking in the right places for the right faces when we attempt to recruit volunteer firefighters?
What are looking for in a volunteer firefighter? The typical volunteer fire department looks for someone who is that “be-all/do-all” member. That means we are looking for those who will answer our emergency calls, become well trained and qualified, spend many hours getting an education and experience, handle the business affairs of the department, attend meetings, and participate in fund raisers and special events – and in his or her spare time help maintain not only the building(s) and grounds, but often the apparatus and equipment as well. Did we forget to mention that another expectation is to become popular with the others just in case they want to take leadership roles (everyone knows we have to win popularity contests if we are to be leaders)? And, by the way, we sure could use the other skills they may have, such as computer or carpentry work, to mention a few, and by all means every member must be a full-time recruiter so we can maintain the necessary number of names on the roster.
Please don’t take all of this out of context. We are not saying that each of us as members should not be doing any of these things, but how much time do we really expect our members to give?
Where do we find the types of people who are willing to volunteer? Usually, they are located within our community, possible even right next door, maybe someone we work or socialize with. They may belong to a civic group with us, be involved in our local schools, churches, businesses or hospitals, or be the friends or acquaintances of existing members.
What is a potential volunteer looking for? For many, it is a need to belong to something they see as important. They are looking for achievement or responsibility. Some are looking for recognition, a challenge, or a role that will give them a personal reward or good feeling. Maybe it’s the thought of helping others, or because “I see my neighbor doing it.” For others, it is for the possibility of securing a position in a paid fire department. There are many reasons people volunteer; we simply need to be able to meet their needs and expectations.
Do we have effective recruitment programs in our departments that include a needs assessment, an interview process and evaluation of potential applicants, realistic expect-ations, a question-and-answer process and other procedures that allow us to recruit people who will make great members?