Recruitment and retention are vital elements for the success of any volunteer fire or emergency medical services (EMS) department. Volunteer departments play a critical role in safeguarding communities, but without enough dedicated volunteers, these departments struggle to fulfill their mission.
Recognizing this challenge, the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) has taken a proactive step by releasing a comprehensive manual titled “Retention and Recruitment for the Volunteer Emergency Services.” This manual will equip volunteer departments with the necessary tools, strategies and insights to overcome recruitment obstacles and retain their valuable volunteers.
“By addressing critical challenges, collaborating with local governments, implementing effective recruitment and retention strategies, and providing guidance on marketing, data utilization and funding, this manual offers a comprehensive resource for volunteer departments to overcome obstacles and ensure the continued safety and protection of their communities,” said Chief Richard Patrick, director, National Fire and EMS Division, U.S. Fire Administration.
Critical recruitment and retention challenges
Recruitment and retention are significant challenges for the U.S. fire and emergency services. According to the National Fire Protection Association, the number of volunteer firefighters has decreased from 897,750 in 1984 to 676,900 in 2020.
Understanding the factors contributing to the decline is crucial in finding solutions. Time demands, increased training requirements and poor leadership are among the challenges faced by volunteer fire departments. Part I of the manual takes a holistic approach to address these recruitment and retention challenges within the community.
Collaborating with the local government
Local governments have a responsibility to provide fire protection services, but volunteer fire and EMS departments often struggle with funding. Part II of the manual offers case studies and insight on fostering and maintaining an effective relationship between volunteer fire and emergency services and local government to get the support needed.
Recruitment strategies for volunteer fire and emergency services must be informed by obstacles that may hinder recruitment efforts. Part III of the manual provides guidance on locating potential volunteers and outlines effective onboarding processes for successful applicants.
Additionally, this section emphasizes the impact of department culture and image on recruitment and offers strategies to ensure diversity and inclusivity within the department to better serve the community.
Retention requires a multipronged approach that showcases department support and addresses volunteer preferences. Conducting an annual retention assessment helps leaders stay current on volunteer needs and potential issues.
Retention topics covered
- Effective leadership
- Realistic expectations
- Health and safety considerations
- Building camaraderie
- Meeting training requirements
- Volunteer benefits and recognition
- Non-operational volunteers
- Mentor programs
- Family support
- Managing departures
The manual also includes sections on marketing, using data to drive recruitment and retention efforts, and funding.
Through the implementation of the strategies and practices outlined in this manual, volunteer departments can strengthen their ranks, enhance their operations and ultimately fulfill their vital mission of safeguarding the well-being of their communities.