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  1. #1
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    Default recruitment and retention

    I come from an all volunteer fire department in Maryland and we have problems like every other volunteer fire department with recruitment and retention. I have found that recently over the last few years that the young people we have recruited into the department only want to fight fire and don't want to participate in the day to day activities of fund raising, training, work details ect... We use to have a point system in place so members were held accountable for what they did and didn't do and if they didn't make a certain amount of points annually you were placed on probation or worst case removed from the company. But do to todays recruitment problems and to retain those members that we already have my company has done away with the point system because they didn't want to step on toes and now this has put us in a precarious position. Only a select few do the work and training ect and its getting harder and harder to be a volunteer. What do we need to do as a company? Be strict and lose those that want to fight fire and not work and train or just let what is going on go on and just deal with it. How has your companies dealt with these issues?
    Chief 7 Ken Smith


  2. #2
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    Default

    Ken,
    I understand your frustration. Though we are considered a city department and recieve a yearly budget we still need the day to day adminstration. It's doesn't matter whether your trying to rasie funds or manage the funds it requires the time. I'm of the belief that only 20% of our actual time is spent on incident calls. The rest being adminstration and training.

    We have some of the same views about getting rid of the non-particpates but as I stated to our board over a discussion a few months ago. The issue was that we had a fire alarm call and no one responded during the weekday. His point was that the low runners should be showing up or we get rid of them. My point was that when no one responds that means everyone from our worst responder to our best didn't show up.

    My point is that getting rid of the worst responders won't improve the situation unless you have a waiting list to join the department which I'm not sure there's to many of use with that problem. This only shorts your member list and gives you no one to work on. Plus according to your situation your members are at least responding.

    So we're looking and discussing how do we get these individuals involved. The thought is a reward system. Maybe bring the points system that you discrided back but use it to reward not punish your members. This should have 2 fold benefit; 1) It will reward those already carrng the load and 2) Get those that aren't involved moving by showing them a benefit. I suspect that they only fight fire because of the benefits which are the excitment and challenges. So we need to show them a bennefit.

    On these boards and through out the volunteer service you'll hear a lot aboard volunteers shouldn't expect anything from thier departments. But with the ever increasing demand through training and more fire calls it is more important for use to reward our members for the service as many departments do whether this is through paid calls, gifts, water bill reduction etc. Funding and using these methods can still be more affordable than staffing a paid department. Given that service is equal between a paid and volunteer group.

    I do believe you need minimum criteria to be a part of the organization so that needs to be defined and enforced. Getting rid of few does send a message because there are those that say "If he doesn't have to then I don't have to."

    We haven't solved our issues completely and nor do I think we will ever completely so I'm open to hear what others are doing as well. Thats the primary reason for me particapting in these boards.
    Stevejd
    www.lcvfd.com

  3. #3
    Junior Member MediTO's Avatar
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    Lightbulb Retention

    At our department, we are quite strict and attempt to adhere to the rules. One of the major hurdles we have found is having the new members become responsible for the department, it's equipment, and it's operation.

    During their first 3 months of probation, they are educated on a variety of topics, including equipment, it's use, and maintenance.
    They are "put in charge" of the equipment they are given, and are responsible for its use and care. (things like turnouts, gloves, helmets, etc).

    Once the member feels like they are responsible for something, they start to open up and feel as though they "belong" so to speak. Everything revolves around a team basis. The team on call does weekly equipment checks together. Not only does this build relationships between the members (new and old), but it is the premise that the team as a whole fails if someone forgets something. This spurs more cooperation within the team to watch each others backs, and it ensures that equipment checks are done properly. Good for the hall and the fireground operations.

    As far as the freelance wannabe's, teach them to respect every spectrum of department operations. Why you do it, how you do it. Have the newbies follow around an officer for a day (or practice night) to see what they do. Kind of like a job shadow. Teach them that you can't fight fires if you don't buy and account for gasoline. you can't use the jaws for extrication unless you pay for and service them.

    In the end, it's a lot of work, but once they get it, they have it for life.

    I have found that kids nowdays (I don't mean all of them, or to be stereotypical of todays youth) have had it pretty easy so far in their life. They don't know what it is like to work for a living because they get everything from mommy and daddy (or either one of them). You gotta work their asses off. Then they get respect for a job well done. If they don't come around eventually to this philosophy, then you don't need them in your department.

    Beers,
    Cheers,
    And good luck.

    MedTO
    "You know - we've got these light thingies and sound makers on for a reason!!!!" >

  4. #4
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    Default Volunteers

    The topic of volunteerism is a problem in any organization that recruits them. But specifically addressing the fire service, most would say the training requirements kills volunteers. However it has been my experience and observation that lack of duties is the single biggest cause. Imagine starting with a willingness (whether with reservations or enthusiasm) only to go to an endless series of meetings. Learning the mode of operation is on an observation basis, and now you get assigned the task of equipment maintenance (Am I a janitor nor where everyone is the critic?).

    To get, develop and retain volunteers (or even career staff) there needs to be a vision on what they will expect. New recruit stage; station orientation, company operations, and what routes they have available to them (along with what they might expect for level of commitment). Participation stage; assignments, assessment, reassignments, reassessments, and an opportunity to provide feedback. Education & experience stage; developing the skillset (JPR) for their particular level of interest (which by the way may change over time because of new interests or inability to serve in original desired capacity.

    I might add that there are two pieces that will also influence recruitment and retention; leadership and staff attitudes. There have been departments where the lack of leadership cause significant strife (and often it defaulted to a lower level officers, which ended up making it look like they were power mongers) and thus made the organization look and feel like the good-ole-boy social club. Also, members who complained continually, made idle threats to leave, and frankly never accomplished much because they were a fountain of suggestions but lacked in commitment and action. With solid leadership most of these problems can be managed and thus open the door to volunteerism.

    Lastly, I believe that we not only do a lousy job at recruiting (the process to promote the possibility) because of the image that we have. To many the fire station is a sacred shrine where brave heros work (and live), thus how could I possible be a part of this? For others' it an elite group (social club) and I have never fit into this world atmosphere. Yet to others it's a place worth exploring, and often this is the result of ACTIVE community involvement throughout the year (not just fire prevention week, the annual barbecue, and Memorial Day parade).

    So as you can see we have work to do. But if new recruits (volunteers) are wanted (and needed) then it is possible to accomplish.

  5. #5
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    Default

    I read of a monetary inducement some years ago, at the end of the year an alotted amount of money was divided by the "points" you received throughout the year:
    4 points for training classes
    3 points for business meetings
    2 points for fund raisers
    1 point for fire calls
    This gave more incentive to do the "un-fun" requirements
    We don't have monetary means to try this ourselves but would
    like to try it.

    Stay safe the dragon still bites
    Last edited by 5pts384; 08-04-2002 at 10:44 AM.

  6. #6
    MembersZone Subscriber UTFFEMT's Avatar
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    Default

    I think you need to give your people serious buy in power, make them feel like they are a serious part of the program and give them a challenge or area of responsibility to be in charge of.

    You also need to treat your people as your most valuable asset, not just like a piece of equipment that you must deal with.
    Front line since 1983 and still going strong

  7. #7
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    Default

    Chief Taylor; I couldn't agree with you more with regard to be a part of the program (which means participation and being accountable) and having something they are responsible for. In fact, the later (responsibility) is probabily the single biggest reason why we loose members. Everyone likes to think of the training demand is the culprit when in fact it really stinks for a new person to show up again and again only to sit around or listen to others spin yarns about that big fire, or how great a job they did. If you can get past that first hurdle of responsibility then the training pill becomes easier to swallow (especially since they have a better understanding of the context of the need).

  8. #8
    Forum Member Tiger Schmittendorf's Avatar
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    Default

    This may jump across many of the topics already addressed in this posting, but I hope I can provide some food for thought.

    I love FireAdvocate's comment about the non-team players being "a fountain of suggestions but lacked in commitment and action." I like to call them the leaders of the "Progress Prevention Department."

    One of my favorite Harry Carter editorials is on the subject of "Are you a good follower?" You can't be a good leader if you haven't first learned to be a good follower - a quality many volunteer firefighters lack.

    To say that the training requirements will be the downfall of the fire service is merely another excuse. While good leadership and quality training are certainly keys to effective recruitment and retention - the volunteers must first be self-motivated to an extent.

    I am often put in the position of talking one of our volunteers "down off the ledge." One of the simplest statements I make to them is, that if they enjoy what they do and they are committed to doing it, then they shouldn't let anyone or anything prevent them from being the firefighter or volunteer they strive to be.

    One word of caution when considering incentive programs and that is to consider your target audience. What motivates a volunteer may be a dis-incentive to their support group (spouse, family, employer, etc.) My incentive is to have enough time to volunteer to the level I enjoy. That's a dis-incentive to my wife and kids.

    Doing things for them, recognizing their sacrifices, and rewarding their commitment in supporting my efforts - that makes my life easier. Peace at home = Peace at the Firehouse and v/v. Make sure you're targeting the right audience with your incentive programs.

    You can always click or call to discuss this more.
    Stay safe. Train often.

    Tiger Schmittendorf
    MembersZone Contributing Editor

    Deputy Fire Coordinator
    Erie County Division of Fire Safety
    Department of Emergency Services
    716/681-7111 - FAX/681-3645
    www.erie.gov/fire
    schmitte@erie.gov

    Chief of Training/PIO
    Evans Center Fire Company
    Town of Evans NY
    www.ecvfc.org
    tiger5@firehousezone.com

  9. #9
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    Default

    I am from small volunteer department in Ona,WV.
    Like almost every other department that I know of,
    we are having problems with recruitment. Our
    retention percentage is about 10%. We are the last
    generation of volunteers. Nobody wants to do dangerous
    work for free anymore. We live in a very self-centered
    society now. The majority of people out there don't
    really care about serving the community. The majority
    of people also don't care about the fire department
    until they need us. Then they gripe about why it took
    us so long to get there.

    My fire department has formed a special "recruitment
    committee" to come up with new ways to attract new
    members. We decided that the community is not educated
    about the fire service. We are trying to get all the
    p.r. that we can. We also decided that people aren't going
    to join because we have signs and posters up asking for
    new members. They will either join because it's something
    they just decided to try (which is why I joined), or
    because they were personally invited to join by someone
    on the department.

    My department, and most departments in my state are in
    need of volunteers. We are also in need of suggestions
    of ways to recruit and retain members. I would appreciate
    any suggestions that may help us recruit volunteers.
    Nothing is greater than the
    heart of a volunteer.

  10. #10
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    Default Recruitment and Retention Planning

    I teach a course in Recruitment and Retention here in New Jersey, so I can offer a couple of ideas that should help. (?)
    First, your committee needs to develop a plan for recruiting new members. To do that, the committee needs to survey what's needed, what's available and decide what resources are required. You need to determine how many members you can handle at one time, what is the profile of your desired recruit, and finally where these recruits are.
    After a COMPLETE survey, you need to develop a plan to attract your target audience. Understand that trying to recruit "everyone" is not a workable solution... Also, the primary reason that people do not volunteer is that THEY WERE NEVER ASKED!!!!! Understand that we compete for volunteers with the local hospital, United Way, Cancer Society, and so on... It is important that your recruiting efforts are able to explain why your organization should be their choice to spend their time....
    Finally, remember that recruiting volunteers is long hard work. It doesn't happen overnight and doesn't happen unless everyone commits to the process.
    One last note or two. Do not "sugar coat" your answers to any potential volunteer. Don't downplay the time it takes, or the potential danger etc...If you "lie" to the volunteer up front, he will leave because he or she will not feel that they have been dealt with honestly... Secondly, your best source of recruiters are your current members. They already know what it takes and can accurately describe everything involved. The Recruiting Committee should develop training for your membership in who you want to recruit and the answers to all those question potential volunteers will ask. In this way, everyone has the same answers and the message is uniform to all potential targets....
    That's a quick overview (my class lasts 6 hours!!!)

    Let me know if I can help...

  11. #11
    55 Years & Still Rolling hwoods's Avatar
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    Smile OK, Back To Work......

    Now that a bit of time has passed since the last post (above) and we have had time to digest the ideas that floated by, Lets look at 1. The work that we do, and 2. Who do we get to do it ? Is it time to go to several types of members in a Volunteer organization ? Do the folks who "put out the Fires" HAVE to do the fund raising too? WHY?? We have an active recruiting effort on a continuing basis and accept new members at any monthly meeting. No waiting list here, someone wants to do something, we get them started quickly. The main point, however, is that we recruit people for whatever area that they want to participate in. Want to do fundraising, but not go near a fire? you got it! Want to do data input for a couple of hours a week? you got it. Want to run emergency calls and stay back 500 feet from working bingo? You got it. The only place that we REQUIRE people to do some things that they may not like is that if you run calls, you train. No exceptions here. Last, anyone who becomes a firefighter MUST also become an EMT and be qualified on the ambulance, but EMTs who do not wish to fight fires do not have to. In short, recruit people for specific jobs, put them to work, and leave them alone. You will get far more accomplished this way than by pushing them to take on tasks that they do not want to do. Stay Safe....
    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

  12. #12
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    Default

    I have found that the biggest problem is not finding volunteers as is is bringing them into the department. We sat down as a department and determined that if we wanted to stay volunteer that we must have a plan to bring people in. A committee was formed and tasked with creating a process to that would streamline interested people who wanted to volunteer into the department. Once the plan was completed the ENTIRE department was educated on how it worked. We promoted it around our town for the first six months. We had 30 applications on which we took about 17 on for fire training. The others either volunteered in other areas or could not met background requirements. But the process worked and it informed the interested people about being a volunteer and what was to be expected from them from the beginning...which has helped with retention. We have done very little promoting since and we have had 3 other 15 member recruit classes in the last 3 years with retention holding at about 75%.

    Good Luck and Be Safe.

  13. #13
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    Default

    I have seen with my home department that a big problem is that everyone has to be an emt. I don't mind this policy and I think it is a good one, but many members don't want to ride the meat box. That seems to be a large problem for our all-volunteer department where the ambulance calls are increasing quite a bit each year. Even when a lot of our members are emt's, they don't want to ride that ambulance. I know our county is working on the recruitment and retention programs, it is still rough. I think that is the largest problem that we have with recruitment and retention and things of that sort. Thankfully our other activities are covered fairly well by the members. Sometimes it is good that we have the retired members and associates. Makes it easier on the riding members.
    What does the Bunkroombandit do? Well, honestly, I am not sure myself, but he sure does like to cause trouble.

  14. #14
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    Default

    I wonder if this would work on other people, or if it's only myself and the one or two people I've talked to about it -- I think it's a good idea to have an ongoing task that a certain member is responsible for. That way, there's a little flexibilty -- people get to choose whether they want to do things as different as fundraising or maintaining some kind of equipment -- and there's also a sense of ownership. That member has a little authority in a limited area and knows we are all depending on them for that job to be done.

    In our department, we have a terribly ineffective system of putting up random crappy jobs on a board and then complaining that no one will do them. But it's extremely easy to just think, 'ahh, someone else will do it.' Or, 'don't we pay someone to do that?' (We do, in some of the cases, have paid staff that should be taking care of it.)

    Another thing is to make use of members' strengths. In my department, trainings are often disorganized and ineffective -- and hence, frequently boring and poorly attended. Now, I'm fairly new at firefighting, so I couldn't necessarily teach classes -- but I'm a professional teacher, and I know a bit about teaching methodology and how to make classes interesting and effective. I also am pretty good at planning and organizing lessons. But I've offered before, and no one wants my help. I guess my point is that, in a volunteer department, people come in with a wide range of skills and you have to make use of what's offered -- that way you get people who are already expert at what they're doing; you don't have to train them as much for that job, and they're satisfied doing it and feel like they're providing something valuable, that no everyone could. I think that also sweetens up having to do the periodic scut work that we all have to do.

  15. #15
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    Lightbulb Just a thought!!!

    Just a small question. How well do you treat your probies? I'm really interested on what kinds of stuff other departments make their probies do. If anyone can respond to this please fill me in.

  16. #16
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    Default recruitment & retention

    I am searching for information on Recruitment & Retention. If there are any articles out there I would appreciate the information. Also, I am in search of motivational ideas and morale boosters.

  17. #17
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    Default

    I too have just signed on to help "streamline" our recruitment process. Right now, we require background checks, physically agility test, application and interviews before they ever attend their first meeting. It seems to me, we are overkilling the applicants and recruits before they enter the door. I will continue to follow this thread and will appreciate any input or information given.

  18. #18
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    Default

    There have been a lot of very good points made so far. As one poster said, recruiting is an on-going process that takes planning and work, and is not something that can be thrown together when we start to run low on bodies.
    Here are a few other observations:

    1. The recruiting effort should deliver the same message in a variety of ways. The key to successful advertising, and successful recruiting, is repitition. This can include posters at businesses, real estate signs on the roads, newspaper articles, community access TV "ads" and programming, information booths at local supermarkets, or using whatever other media outlets you have in your community. These should all go up and come down at the same time, and should only run for a limited period of time as well (2-3 weeks). The visual efforts should only happen 2-3 times a year, with training scheduled to begin immediattly afterwards.

    2. Target. target. Target. Decide who is likely to volunteer in your community and target them through specific materials and programs. An example is if you are looking for daytime personnel.... recruit during the daytime when the potential volunteers are around. Also make sure that you can train them during the day and you don't require them to make nightime training as they are probably working.

    3. Be flexible. As one poster said, the requirement to all firefighting personnel to have thier EMT is hurting them. While I understand all firefighters need a certain set of skills ... requiring them to have EMS will cost recruits. If running EMS is a priority .. have EMS only personnel slots available to make up the shortfall. Have a system in place for that person that wants to do only scene support, public education, truck maintanence or some administrative task requiring special skills.

    Truly, we do not do a very good job with recruiting. Being successful will mean some agencies will have to change thier structure and changing the way they view the title of "firefighter". It will mean opening the doors to a whole new group of people who want to use thier skills in very limited ways.

  19. #19
    MembersZone Subscriber dmleblanc's Avatar
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    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by firehousejames
    I too have just signed on to help "streamline" our recruitment process. Right now, we require background checks, physically agility test, application and interviews before they ever attend their first meeting. It seems to me, we are overkilling the applicants and recruits before they enter the door. I will continue to follow this thread and will appreciate any input or information given.
    We don't require any of the above (other than filling out an application).You do have to be accepted by a vote of the general membership, so that provides at least some means of screening (it's a small town, somebody in the department probably knows the guy already, so if there's any problems with might find out that way). I'm starting to address this....I think the background checks are a good idea, as is the physical agility test, neither of which we are doing currently.

    But I'm not so sure that all those are a bad idea when it comes to recruiting. Sometimes I feel like we make it too easy for new members to join....I think they may get the wrong impression that there's not much commitment required in joining the department ("They'll take anybody") and therefore maybe not much required to remain on the department once they're accepted. I think that maybe if we make it a little tougher to get on the department (not really hard, just have to go through a physical test, interview, background check, etc.) then they may realize that there are some standards to be met and that acceptance is not automatic.

    I don't know, but it just seems to me that a lot of guys are very nonchalant about maintaining their membership, and that this may start with how easy it is to become a member.
    Chief Dwayne LeBlanc
    Paincourtville Volunteer Fire Department
    Paincourtville, LA

    "I have a dream. It's not a big dream, it's just a little dream. My dream — and I hope you don't find this too crazy — is that I would like the people of this community to feel that if, God forbid, there were a fire, calling the fire department would actually be a wise thing to do. You can't have people, if their houses are burning down, saying, 'Whatever you do, don't call the fire department!' That would be bad."
    — C.D. Bales, "Roxanne"

  20. #20
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    Thumbs up Volunteer Retention

    I hate to be the negative nelly, but it's a fact of life that the youth of america really have become a couch potatoe generation. they want the high dollar jobs just handed to them and not have to do any work at all for those high wages and salaries. The fact that fire fighting weather your sex, creed, color or any thing else is hard work and todays kids just can't fathom having to do physical work. I'm a fire prevention educator and when I go out into the community and talk to the youth at schools or other places. The kids are interested in the fire service until they realize how hard we actually work and that it is not all just sitting around the fire station waiting for calls and sitting on your butt. That we actually have a regular schedule at least as much it could ber with the interspersed call volume thru the normal shift. So I can see it getting worse before it gets better in society to recruite volunteers. And I'm on two combination departments one as full time as the fire prevention specialist educator, and the other is a combination department that I'm a on-call fire fighter for.

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