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One Company's SAFER Story: How You Can Do It, Too

Return to the May 1, 2013 issue of On Scene

Fire departments charged with training and retaining emergency-service recruits continue to face existing and emerging challenges. With a plethora of membership or riding-status requirements, it's not uncommon for new members to become overwhelmed, uninterested or simply lost in the shuffle. Ever-escalating call volumes, stringent training demands, increased community expectations, all in concert with hectic personal lives, have put volunteer time at a premium.

These scenarios combined with unforeseen variables have significantly dented the volunteer fire service that was once an unyielding staple of American communities.

Despite these challenges, hope for the volunteer fire and emergency service is not lost.

Perhaps the most innovative use of SAFER funds is as a means to provide salary and related benefits for a volunteer fire company to hire a full-time recruitment and retention coordinator. Since using SAFER funding to hire a coordinator, Abingdon has made significant changes and continued improvements to its recruitment and retention efforts.

However, not every department needs an employee to ensure effective recruitment and retention. Here are just a few ways any fire department could see success with some creativity, hard work and a few dedicated volunteers.

Evaluate the Big Picture

So much of what goes on in a fire department, both negative and positive, is sometimes convoluted by the sheer abundance of tasks, responsibilities and intricacies of the average day. Having one person to keep an eye on the 30,000-foot view is essential.

The more neutral and objective this person can be, the better. Remaining unbiased by potentially negative firehouse culture permits an individual or group to assess and address some of the over-arching difficulties and challenges a department may face.

Analyze

What in society isn't data-driven these days? Someone spending the time to crunch numbers can identify emerging trends or recommend vital policy implementation or change. With creativity, data analysis can answer many significant questions.

Consider these areas for analysis:

  • Tracking application data to evaluate and capitalize marketing effectiveness
  • Monitoring members' volunteer hours to determine staffing needs
  • Tracking various statistics related to call volumes to help allocate operational resources
  • Studying the time before new recruits are riding apparatus to establish effective orientation programs

Be the Solid in a Fluid Environment

Dedicate individuals to help members navigate the many concerns and small-scale problems members face. Having someone to specifically handle issues with email, getting equipment, assisting with records or answering simple "How do I…" situations takes stress off the chain of command and helps to address members' needs in a timely manner.

Find Your Multitool

Everyone knows how helpful multitools are on the fireground or at a medical call, but so is having one in your station. Don't underestimate the potential value of volunteers who don't want to ride but "just want to help." Whether administering fit tests, scheduling physicals, registering members for classes, assisting with IT, managing social media, updating training records, maintaining records-management systems or auditing reports, a volunteer can provide an unimaginable amount of help without ever stepping foot on an engine or ambulance.

Having a full-time position to handle these and many other recruitment and retention tasks provides a significant level of support to Abingdon's day-to-day operations. But with creativity, organization and dedication of an individual or a group, any department can accomplish these vital operations with little or no funding at all.

Leave no stone unturned when facing the fire service's challenges of today and lead your department in becoming a model for the recruitment and retention of your members.

Andrew Nau is a SAFER-funded recruitment and retention coordinator with Abingdon Fire Company and has been a volunteer at fire departments in New York and Maryland.

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