Volunteer Fire Departments: Filling The Rolls

Gerard J. Naylis describes how one state has developed a program to attract volunteers to the fire and emergency services.


A critical factor facing volunteer fire departments and emergency services provider organizations is recruiting people to fill their rolls. Attracting and retaining competent and qualified people is becoming increasingly difficult at a time when service demands are increasing. Volunteer...


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The need for emergency services volunteers and the telephone number are publicized in a variety of ways. One of the first employed involved the use of placemats at restaurants. One million placemats were printed by Marcal Paper Products and shipped by UPS to over 450 locations in New Jersey that were members of the state’s Licensed Beverage Association and agreed to participate in the program. These services, valued at over $25,000, were all donated, proving that the private sector would support the program.

The committee focused on using a road sign as a more permanent method of promoting the campaign. The state Department of Corrections agreed to develop and manufacture 12-by-18-inch road signs that could be permanently mounted on signposts. The signs, which cost $6.30 each, are purchased by individual fire departments and erected by local public works and road departments. The committee’s goal is to place 3,000 signs statewide.

A major effort undertaken by the committee was the production and distribution of a 10-minute video titled, “What If No One Answered the Call?” The target audience is young people ages 16-22. Copies of the video and a promotional poster were distributed free of charge to each fire department, high school and public library in the state. The distribution of the videos was handled through the Division of Fire Safety, using lists provided by the State Principals and Superintendents Association for the schools and the State Library Association for the public libraries. Information on incorporating the video into a school curriculum was included, based on a pilot program run at one high school. Support for this part of the project came from Prudential Insurance, Hansen Industries and Dr. Frank Field, a TV weather and science reporter.

The committee is already working on other ways of spreading the message on the need for more emergency services volunteers. Projects already in progress include an annual tray liner campaign at fast-food establishments and other restaurants. Public service announcements for both radio and television are also being developed. Transit cards and outdoor advertising are also under consideration.

The 1-800-FIRE-LINE program has been picked up and put into operation in Pennsylvania. Calls in that state are answered by the Pennsylvania Fire Services Institute. Several other states have also expressed interest in adopting the program. The concept and materials are easily transferable to any state.

For further information on the 1-800-FIRE-LINE program, contact Chairman Ed Cohn, Recruitment Committee, New Jersey Division of Fire Safety, CN 809, Trenton, NJ 08625.


Gerard J. Naylis is ex-chief of the Bergenfield, NJ, Fire Department and a member of the New Jersey State Fire Commission.