Volunteer Fire Department Recruitment & Retention

Larry Curl and Tim Wall suggest there is a “myth” surrounding the issue of recruiting and retaining volunteer firefighters in this country.

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...

To access the remainder of this piece of premium content, you must be registered with Firehouse. Already have an account? Login

Register in seconds by connecting with your preferred Social Network.


Complete the registration form.


What are people really looking for when they become volunteer firefighters? Is it social activity or a sense of belonging? Does the thought of saving a life encourage some? What about the status we gain in our communities? There are many reasons why people join community service organizations, and the most important part of a leader’s job is to keep them once they have joined.

So you think you have provided a good retention service and you have done everything right, but they are still leaving. Let’s examine some of the factors that may keep them as members.

Providing qualified leadership is a start. Are we offering sound leadership or are we still electing the “best buddies” or “good ole boys” as leaders in popularity contests?

What about training? You say our members are tired of all that training, but have we offered or provided our membership alternatives such as distance learning, CD-ROM training and on-line drills? Are we really being serious about our training by letting our membership know what we are training on and why? Do we start when we say we will start and finish at the stated finish time? And do we add a little creativity to make our training interesting and perhaps even a little fun? All of these factors have a bearing on the training we do.

Do we still insist that every mem-ber must be a “jack of all trades” who can do it all, or do we attempt to match job duties with members’ skills? We understand that we need the vast majority of our members to be qualified, trained and experienced in the delivery of our emergency services. But if we have an accountant, a graphic artist, a mechanic, a plumber, a carpenter or a data-entry specialist in our community who is willing to offer his or her time and talents, but is not willing to fight fires or answer other emergency calls, couldn’t he or she still be valuable to us by freeing up valuable time for those of us who want to be firefighters or EMTs? Are we offering a membership based on qualifications and services, or are we still living in the world of “if you’re a member, you must be a full member and be able handle to every need”?

Lastly, we must ask this question: Are we operating our departments like the businesses they are, by being professional and responsive to the needs of our communities, or are we still operating the local social clubs, the places to hang out when we have nothing better to do? If we operate our departments as businesses, taking into account the needs of the business and the needs of our customers, and with the intent of being successful, we will find the departments we belong to, live for, work with and love become a much more viable part of our community with pride and success greater than that which we have ever known.

If, after all of this, we still have not convinced you that the real problem is not recruitment, but retention, then we offer other facts and suggestions about recruitment. This may be very basic for some, but rest assured there are many who do not have or even know what a recruitment committee is or does.

Let’s examine the importance of the volunteer fire department membership committee. Every department should have membership or recruitment committee in place. This outline will contain information and suggestions that can improve a membership committee – your department’s most important committee.

1. Establish who should be on the committee:

  • Members who are active and in good standing in the department
  • Officers or seasoned veterans
  • Knowledgeable of the firefighting and emergency medical fields
  • Good and effective communicators

2. Find those who want to serve on this committee:

  • Consider individuals who have retired or “went exempt,” but who know the history and operations of your fire department

3. What members of the membership or recruitment committee should know:

  • Applicable state and local laws
  • Fair Labor Standards Act
  • Civil Rights Act of 1964
  • American with Disabilities Act of 1992
  • Immigration laws
  • Bylaws and standard operating procedures (SOPs) and standard operating guidelines (SOGs) of the department (Some of the above can be controversial, so the committee chairperson should consult with the department or town legal counsel.)

4. The make-up of the committee: