1. #1
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    Default Recruitment and Retention of Volunteers??? Need Some Ideas???

    I know Recruitment and Retention of volunteer firefighters / ems is an on going issue for a lot of VFD's across this great country. I wanted to get some ideas of how other VFD's handle this growing issue? Big or Small, what does your department do to recruit and retain members?

    As for our department, we donít do much of either, sad but true. We are a rural VFD that runs an average of 50 to 70 calls a year. Being the newly appointed Chief, I along with Board of Directors want to allot some type of reward, or something for our members in our small budget on a yearly basis. In the past, the department usually gave out a T-shirt or 2 through the year and we have an annual banquet for everyone to get together and have a good time once a year. Other than these few things, that is pretty much it.

    I am very interested to read about how other volunteer departments across the country are managing these escalating issues.

    Thanks in advance!!!

    Silverado

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    How many members in your department?

    And 50 to 70 calls a year? How rural is rural where you are?

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    Are you doing regular training? Try to put some extra exciting stuff in there. Ask your guys what they want to be learning, see if you can get them away on extra courses.

    Try and cut off guys that are leaving, see if you can make it more appealing for them. If that's a few giveaways, then that's good. If it's something else try and get some info from them.

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    Well for our initial response area which composes of 39 square miles which is in a rural country setting with a population of around 3900 citizens. On dividing up our response area into segments, it should look something similar to the following: 25% farming, 45% residential (open fields, rolling hills, along with pretty heavily wooded areas, and of course mountains), 10%Commercial, 20% Industrial (Heavy in logging timber and other wooded driven industry).

    We have 28 members on the roster, but 10 to 15 are active. As for the non active members, I am getting in touch with them and finding out what is going on as to why they are not showing up. Whether itís their daily job, family, or if they have just lost interest all together and thatís keeping them away. We have right at 6 to 7 younger guys (22 years of age and younger) who belong and are the future of this department. The department has always done weekly training on our meeting night, whether it is a hose maze, rescuing a person or downed firefighter, pumping different trucks within our fleet, to driving the trucks so members stay fresh on how to operate the units. In the past we have scheduled monthly certified class through the appropriate state agencies, but some the guys feel like there is too much training. I personally believe you should never quit training, or think you have nothing else to learn. Thatís when people get hurt, or worse. There is always something to learn or better ones skills at.

    Some of the previous management persons over the last few years have came in and changed a significant amount of policies, some for the betterment of the department and some were not. I know change is not always easy to digest, but when it is necessary to meet the rules and regulations set forth by local, state, and the federal government, it has to happen. This took a toll on the moral of the department. I personally believe if things are going to change, for the better or worse, they have to start at the top and work their way down. Thatís what I have been telling my officers. If they have a positive attitude, that our firefighters will see this and theirs will change as well. And we also have a few of the seasoned firefighters that have been with the department for 25+ years and they still think that anyone can just don an SCBA and run into a burning building (kind of the good ol boy club, where we are just volunteers, we don't have to do that training stuff). They just don't understand as to the liability that is out there today, and the need for current and up to date training. We are not fighting fire as we were even 20 years ago.

    We have a good department, but there is always room for improvement in anything you do. We have a significant amount of newer equipment, and are very fortunate to be where we are at this day and age. I know not everyone will always be happy with everything that takes place. That is why I am trying to get ideas as to what other departments around the country are doing to recruit and retain members while looking to the future of their department, while I am looking to the future of mine.

    Please keep the info and ideas coming as to what your departments are doing to recruit and retain members!

    Thanks in advance!

    Silverado

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    I would hold training open for the public to view, pass out information and apps. Get kids excited. Also, look into federal grants that allow education to be paid for as long as they are a good standing vol. Sometimes you have to give a little to get a little. Training ideas to keep people up to date and interested too. It starts at the top. You have to set an example.

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    No magic answers here, just can try and give you my opinion.

    We run around 100 calls a year in a totally rural area. Got about 15 on the roster. Would like 25, but I'll take less of the right people, than more of the not-right people.

    I was appointed Chief right at a year ago. I drafted a point-based plan (similiar to many you've probably heard of) based on responses, meeting attendance, training attendance, etc, etc, with the intention of rewarding people at the end of the year with gift cards, equipment, shirts, etc. Problem is (and I really, really get it now that I'm in charge)...money.

    Our subscription income pays the basic operating costs, plus a bit extra. And something is always breaking or getting lost that requires me to spend that little extra.

    Here's the best I can offer you, and it's all I'm able to do at the moment.

    1. I try to give everyone a new T-shirt once a year.
    2. I try to give my people the tools they need for the job (not necessarily the tools they want...or I'd have a couple of thermal imagers, carbon-wrapped bottles, and AC in the grass rigs).
    3. I try to keep the tools and equipment working. Nothing makes you feel like a fool more than being broke down in sight of the fire. Or not being able to get the pump started for lack of maintanence (especially on those mutual aid calls!).
    4. Tell people when they do a good job IN FRONT of the others.
    5. We run a fireworks stand for a fundraiser (I know, I know...we pass out safety literature), and after we shut the stand down for good, I host a fireworks show at my house. Pot luck, bring the kids and wife, eat and watch the Chief try not to blow himself up.
    6. Give people responsibility and they'll have more pride in the product. Having no regular maintanence program when I given the Chief's job, I gave charge of routine and light repair issues to one of Captains (who's a full-time mechanic). Two things happened...stuff isn't breaking as much, and he's taken a bigger stake in the department. It paid dividends I didn't anticipate.
    7. If you can find them and harness their energy, utilized cadets (under 18). Some of our best, most motivated, highest trained and in-shape members started coming around when they were 15-18 years old. It gave them something constructive to do that was worthwhile, and it meant something to them. Love to see someone excited to GET to roll hose!

    Long post...wish I had more to offer. Just keep in mind, people on rural departments are usually volunteering for one of three reasons---1) for the rush (that wears off after they figure out there's more work than fun on a VFD), 2) to get a leg up on getting hired somewhere, 3) civic duty to the community. Most rural firefighters are from #3. They need to know what they're doing matters to their families and neighbors. The rest of the stuff (dinners, awards, certificates) is nice, but most of them aren't really in it for that anyway. They're just trying to help out. Let 'em know they are, and you apreciated it.

    And, if you have a spare $5000 a year, I've got a great award program lined up you can use!
    Bryan Beall
    Silver City, Oklahoma USA

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    Default thoughts from a guy from the bottom of the totem pole

    Just noticed that most of the post were from chiefs and thought a perspective from a new guy might be helpfull.I just joined our county's vol. dept(about 80 members)around 4 months ago.I would have to say that having good equipment is a big plus.It doesn't have to be new, just look decent and perform it's job.Like silvercity said, most of the guys in a vol. dept are in it to serve the community so how the dept. is percieved in the community is crucial.I know for me one of the things that really caught my attention was when the county judge exec. was quoted in the paper as sayong that the county's dept. was the best of the state.That kinda stuff attracts attention, and I think from the type of people who make for a good dept.Give aways are cool but frankly, I've got t-shirts so thats not really a big deal to me.Nobody runs in a burning building because they got a shirt.I enjoy the trainings but keep in mind these guys have jobs and families so don't get bent out of a shape if they miss some of them.Like I said, this is just my thoughts as a new guy, hope it helps.

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    My department presently has 36 members (42 allowed). Couple of years ago, we were lucky to have 25.

    One thing my department has done that was a plus for most is we received hourly pay for calls. We run an average of 600 calls a year, with about 70% being medical. The previous adminstrations never gave much thought into having full staff, so they never budgetted a large amount for wages. Then we had a recruitment explosion and with that came amending our budget due to exceeding the wage allowance. We've since changed to a set amount of pay per quarter being allotted for wages. Pay is broken down by percentage of alarms made.

    Another thing we have that's nice is a bonus. We have 5k paid out to evenly to all members who make 30% or better of all runs during a 6 month period. We pay this out twice a year. For the last 7 years, we've averaged 10-12 people making bonus each period.

    T-shirts and work shirts are nice and all. However we pay for ours individually at my department. Rules were that one had to be on for at least 1 full year and be off probation before being allowed to purchase them. It was a matter of pride to earn the right to wear those. That has since gone out the door and it shows.

    Equipment - having what you need and it working properly is a large factor in keeping people happy. Same goes for quality training. No one wants to arrive on scene only to find that the pump doesn't work or the last person to use an airpack didn't fill it back up. Not too many would choose sitting through power-point driven lectures at every training session over getting out and doing some actual hands-on. Keep it mixed up!

    Keep the equipment up and as new as you can. Same goes for the training; keep it lively and evolving to meet your community and department's needs.

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    There is the SAFER grant that is coming up in 2010. It will have 440 million which is huge this year. Its mainly for adding paid FFs in career departments or recruitment and retention for volunteer departments like yours.

    Some of the requests are for things like college tuitions, reimbursements for attending training, station uniforms, websites, tv advertising, billboards, jackets, ID's, buisness cards, etc. At least that is what I have heard of. I understand that the main reason why members leave is because of a lack of recognition. I would imagine if you addressed that fact you may have some results along with a moderate bit of increased training. Increased training is not the 'answer to everything' that many departments make it out to be. However an increase in smaller amounts of training that stimulates the core of trained members you wish to retain, may be a partial solution.

    I would ask for some sample narratives of SAFER narratives in the grants section and see if you get some ideas from that.

    Its part of the AFG/SAFER Fire Act grants. I think if you visit the grants section here on firehouse.com, you can find out a lot more or go to firegrantsupport.com . They extended last years application period because of a lack of submissions.

    I intend to take advantage of this grant that does not require a cash match from my department.
    Last edited by jam24u; 05-05-2010 at 11:16 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by SilverCity4 View Post
    No magic answers here, just can try and give you my opinion.

    We run around 100 calls a year in a totally rural area. Got about 15 on the roster. Would like 25, but I'll take less of the right people, than more of the not-right people.

    I was appointed Chief right at a year ago. I drafted a point-based plan (similiar to many you've probably heard of) based on responses, meeting attendance, training attendance, etc, etc, with the intention of rewarding people at the end of the year with gift cards, equipment, shirts, etc. Problem is (and I really, really get it now that I'm in charge)...money.

    Our subscription income pays the basic operating costs, plus a bit extra. And something is always breaking or getting lost that requires me to spend that little extra.

    Here's the best I can offer you, and it's all I'm able to do at the moment.

    1. I try to give everyone a new T-shirt once a year.
    2. I try to give my people the tools they need for the job (not necessarily the tools they want...or I'd have a couple of thermal imagers, carbon-wrapped bottles, and AC in the grass rigs).
    3. I try to keep the tools and equipment working. Nothing makes you feel like a fool more than being broke down in sight of the fire. Or not being able to get the pump started for lack of maintanence (especially on those mutual aid calls!).
    4. Tell people when they do a good job IN FRONT of the others.
    5. We run a fireworks stand for a fundraiser (I know, I know...we pass out safety literature), and after we shut the stand down for good, I host a fireworks show at my house. Pot luck, bring the kids and wife, eat and watch the Chief try not to blow himself up.
    6. Give people responsibility and they'll have more pride in the product. Having no regular maintanence program when I given the Chief's job, I gave charge of routine and light repair issues to one of Captains (who's a full-time mechanic). Two things happened...stuff isn't breaking as much, and he's taken a bigger stake in the department. It paid dividends I didn't anticipate.
    7. If you can find them and harness their energy, utilized cadets (under 18). Some of our best, most motivated, highest trained and in-shape members started coming around when they were 15-18 years old. It gave them something constructive to do that was worthwhile, and it meant something to them. Love to see someone excited to GET to roll hose!

    Long post...wish I had more to offer. Just keep in mind, people on rural departments are usually volunteering for one of three reasons---1) for the rush (that wears off after they figure out there's more work than fun on a VFD), 2) to get a leg up on getting hired somewhere, 3) civic duty to the community. Most rural firefighters are from #3. They need to know what they're doing matters to their families and neighbors. The rest of the stuff (dinners, awards, certificates) is nice, but most of them aren't really in it for that anyway. They're just trying to help out. Let 'em know they are, and you apreciated it.

    And, if you have a spare $5000 a year, I've got a great award program lined up you can use!
    SilverCity4, you bring up some interesting results. Especially the before and after. Well done if I may say. Volunteer18 also had some valuable insight from a newbie standpoint. We must remember to listen to that perspective.

    SilverCity, I would like to see that program if possible. my addy is jam24u@windstream.net

  11. #11
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    I joined to help my community. I found out after though, that we get paid $2.30/hr per call and trainings, which usually equates a good couple hundred bucks by Christmas. There really aren't any perks other than the pride of serving your community in such a dangerous way.

  12. #12
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    Thumbs up Well.............

    Quote Originally Posted by silverad0 View Post
    I know Recruitment and Retention of volunteer firefighters / ems is an on going issue for a lot of VFD's across this great country. I wanted to get some ideas of how other VFD's handle this growing issue? Big or Small, what does your department do to recruit and retain members?

    As for our department, we donít do much of either, sad but true. We are a rural VFD that runs an average of 50 to 70 calls a year. Being the newly appointed Chief, I along with Board of Directors want to allot some type of reward, or something for our members in our small budget on a yearly basis. In the past, the department usually gave out a T-shirt or 2 through the year and we have an annual banquet for everyone to get together and have a good time once a year. Other than these few things, that is pretty much it.

    I am very interested to read about how other volunteer departments across the country are managing these escalating issues.

    Thanks in advance!!!

    Silverado


    One place to look for information is the U.S.Fire Administration. There is a Book available on Volunteer Recruitment and Retention (Free) from them. I don't have the url for them, but it shouldn't take too much work to find it. You can Browse the Library and order online, with no cost to you or your Department.

    We do the Dinner (Called the Installation of Officers and Awards Banquet) and summer Picnic things along with the "T Shirts" and all. I've found that having something to do and being able to learn things are high on the list for new folks, especially those under 25. I try to always remember the "Good Job" stuff and mention that in public. The "Boy, did you screw up" Stuff is always a Private Discussion. Last, Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither was a good VFD. It does sound to me like you're off to a good start though, so keep it going.......
    Never use Force! Get a Bigger Hammer.
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    Asst. Chief John R. Woods Sr. 1937 - 2006

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    Quote Originally Posted by hwoods View Post
    One place to look for information is the U.S.Fire Administration. There is a Book available on Volunteer Recruitment and Retention (Free) from them. I don't have the url for them, but it shouldn't take too much work to find it. You can Browse the Library and order online, with no cost to you or your Department.

    We do the Dinner (Called the Installation of Officers and Awards Banquet) and summer Picnic things along with the "T Shirts" and all. I've found that having something to do and being able to learn things are high on the list for new folks, especially those under 25. I try to always remember the "Good Job" stuff and mention that in public. The "Boy, did you screw up" Stuff is always a Private Discussion. Last, Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither was a good VFD. It does sound to me like you're off to a good start though, so keep it going.......
    Hey Harve, the VRR book you are referring to is only available online.. Its like 200+ pages long. I just checked...

  14. #14
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    Thumbs up Ok..............

    Quote Originally Posted by RescueEngine40 View Post
    Hey Harve, the VRR book you are referring to is only available online.. Its like 200+ pages long. I just checked...

    Thanks Bro, I got a Hard Copy in my Library, I'll check it to see if I might be off base a bit with the Title or something.....
    Never use Force! Get a Bigger Hammer.
    In memory of
    Chief Earle W. Woods, 1912 - 1997
    Asst. Chief John R. Woods Sr. 1937 - 2006

    IACOJ Budget Analyst

    I Refuse to be a Spectator. If I come to the Game, I'm Playing.

    www.gdvfd18.com

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    I'm in a rural VFD in Washington. I'm a probie, and it's 3am, so take everything I say with a block of salt.
    I'm from out of district, and I drive an hour from my town of 9k to volunteer at a rural station with under 20 volunteers and 1 (soon to be 3) paid guys. In 2009 we had 170 EMS calls and 94 FF calls, so we're a little busier than you are. (The town has about 900 folks in it, but it's right on a curvy highway.)

    If you can, pay the volunteers for their time, at least on calls. Even just a little bit helps. Our guys get $9 an hour, which is barely over the minimum in this state, but when they work a 12-hour shift it makes a difference. They get paid every quarter, although they don't get paid during the first year (probation). We'll give everybody weekly in-house fire and EMS training, but we won't pay for their EMT courses til they're off probation.

    Training is useful. T-shirts are cool. Being a part of the brotherhood is cooler. (Yeah, I'm a girl, but it's still a brotherhood. Can't explain it. It works.) A little community recognition goes a long way, but I don't mean the boring ceremony type.
    I mean...our Chief once told me a story about a pediatric call. A dog bit off a 9yo's face, and Chief put it back and held it on with dressings and did all the EMS stuff right. I've seen the kid, and the scars are really small. Chief sees that kid around all the time, and the kid's devoted to him. And Chief looks at him and knows that something he did changed a kid's life, made it better.

    That's why I joined, why I drive forty miles to training, why I nagged and begged the Chief and commissioners for months to change the out-of-district limit on # of vols and accept my application.
    I know I'll get excellent training here, that I'll learn stuff that'll let me make my whole community a better place. I know I'm working with people worth learning from. I know I'll make good friends, and maybe make a little money. And it is a REALLY cool t-shirt.
    But the training, more than anything else, is what I'm here for.

    There's something special about our Chief that gets people to volunteer, and to show up. He's an ex-Navy guy, can tell any story so it'll crack your ribs laughing, expects you to try damn hard but won't knock you for failing. The training exercises are fun and a challenge. (There's been mention of setting his yard on fire!) And boy, does he know his $#!t.

    I don't know how to explain it, Silverado, but not only does he have out-of-district volunteers lining up at the station door, but he also gets a huge number of the FF/EMTs to come out on calls! I think it's because he makes every situation a chance to learn, and a chance to laugh. We don't want to let him down.
    So I've figured out that I don't know Jack...but how am I supposed to meet him?

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    open house....show your rigs off to the area and it's residents- can even get donations with this

    have a junior program for kids at the area high school....many depts. area allowed to have kid 16yrs old and greater ride on calls//take FFI. They can be that "Spark" you need - they are somewhat hyped up to be in a dept. to do "cool" stuff and can bring a largely positive attitude (keep in mind, they need more looking after and shouldn't be doing things that they are not trained for or are too irresponsible for -- absolutely no interior fire attacks, for example)

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    Junior or Explorer programs can be very productive - one in my county has been running for 20 years now, with many, if not most, of the Explorers moving on to become firefighters.

    A caveat about such programs - they need recruiting, too. I've encountered youth programs that went great guns at first - until the last of the original members moved on - they never brought in any new blood.

    I'll second the idea of providing training/drill opportunities. Make 'em fun, make 'em challenging. Know what the training/drill for a given session is going to be - nothing worse than milling around wondering what to do.

    I like the idea of a point system, but there has to be something attached.
    Opinions my own. Standard disclaimers apply.

    Everyone goes home. Safety begins with you.

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