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According to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), around 87% of fire and EMS departments in the U.S. use volunteers in some way to respond to emergencies. Having the ability to recruit these folks is critical, and ensuring that your volunteer department is recruiting in the best way possible can have a major impact on the success of your personnel.
Below are some best practices and interesting facts from research on recruiting:
• Younger people tend to have shorter tenure with volunteer organizations
• Organizations with additional budgets and support for their volunteers tend to have fewer problems recruiting volunteers
Research also shows that organizations that use a higher amount of recruitment techniques tend to have a harder time recruiting volunteers. While this is evident in the research, the correlation here is likely to be one of inverse causation. It could be that organizations that have trouble recruiting volunteers end up using many tactics, while organizations that easily recruit end up not doing this. A likely solution to this issue is to study which of your past techniques has been successful. Where did your current good and long-tenured volunteers come from? Did they see an ad, hear about it through a friend or just walk in one day?
Find out why the people who have been there for a while and are successful came to be a part of the department. Not every department is attractive for the same reasons and not every reason stays around forever.
One of the most advanced ways to determine how best to recruit is to study how successful your recruiting efforts have been in the past. This can be accomplished by interviewing your current members. If you are able to identify trends from where many of the successful volunteers came from, it may drive your decision to invest more time and energy into that type of recruiting.
A common and well-supported method of recruitment is word of mouth. Encourage current successful volunteers to make their friends and family aware of the department’s need for more people. Research has found that this is often a successful method because friends of volunteers often get a good picture of what it is like to do the job, and are often similar in interests and desires as their friends, which makes it likely that they too would be a good fit in the department.
What difference would this make? What does this mean for your department? Good practices and using research to create effective strategies to recruit and retain volunteers are critical. A recent study we conducted showed that turnover was reduced by three times in one year when best practices were used. Imagine your department has about 50 volunteers total, and nine leave every year. That requires a lot of new training and we all know that it takes a while for someone to be trained in order to be helpful on scene. In our research we saw that number of nine leaving every year drops to three a year with only a few small changes.
How can we do this?
A great source here is to consider applying to a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant, which can pay for the recruiting efforts. So far in 2014, some 66 departments have been awarded these grants, with an average amount of more than $320,000. That is quite a chunk of change that could certainly help in the recruitment of some good volunteers.
Townsend and Rush Consulting
The writer is an organizational development consultant for Townsend and Rush Consulting, which provides human resources and organizational development services to fire and EMS departments and other clients. He has been an active firefighter since the age of 18 and is certified as a Firefighter I and II. He holds a master’s degree in industrial and organizational psychology from Radford University and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Appalachian State University.