The VCOS International Strategic Initiative Online Network

Mission: To produce a comprehensive framework to assist communities and their fire and emergency service leaders to create and maintain dynamic organizations.

VISION is the result of the combined efforts of fire chiefs from across the U.S. and Canada addressing the needs of volunteer and combination emergency response agencies. Our efforts are focused on specific areas of organizational management that present challenges to creating and sustaining viable emergency response programs.

Challenge 1: Capabilities and Competencies

The existing national standards prescribe a one-size-fits-all training curriculum for structural firefighters. States may or may not follow the national standards or may modify the national standard to fit their individual situation. Some states have reciprocity and some do not.

Initiative 1A: Incremental Training Based on Community Risk Analysis
Review current national model firefighter professional development standards and recommend revisions to those standards to provide an incremental approach to training based on community risk.

Initiative 1B: Establish a National System of Reciprocity for Standards
Establish a system of national recognition and reciprocity for all firefighter professional development standards.

Initiative 1C: Develop Modular Model Curriculum
Develop modular model curriculum for leaders of volunteer staffed emergency service organizations (ESOs).

Challenge 2: Community Relations

ESOs have not been particularly successful in developing an effective partnership with their communities. Many ESOs do not provide regular information to the community about the ESO's needs, abilities, and type and levels of service.

Without clear, comprehensive and consistent two-way communication between the ESO and the community misunderstandings can develop, the public will not be fully aware of the needs of the ESO, nor can the public fully appreciate the limitations on the service delivery capabilities of the ESO. Without an understanding of the delivery system, the public is not able to make informed choices about cost of service versus benefits received.

Initiative 2A: Tools to Share Community Risk and Fire Service Capabilities
Develop tools and training to support the creation and sharing of information describing community risk and fire service capabilities.

Initiative 2B: Tools to Improve Public Awareness of Services
Develop training and tools for use by ESOs to assist with improving communications, marketing and to increase public awareness of services.

Initiative 2C: Public Education to Reduce Unnecessary Responses
Develop and deliver public education to reduce unnecessary responses.

Challenge 3: Recruitment

Emergency service organizations (ESOs) need proven recruitment methods including information and resources on how to ensure a more diverse and inclusive workforce. In addition to the operational skills usually targeted when recruiting, there is also a need to attract new members who bring specialized, non-operational skills to the organization. In this manner, the organization can adapt to societal changes and improve its ability to compete for new members in a highly competitive volunteer market.

Additionally, some volunteer-based ESOs continue to use fraternal selection processes and fail to adopt a modern business model for volunteer selection. This can place the organization at risk for potential legal action related to discrimination and unfair hiring practices.

High performing leaders and managers recognize that specialized skills in their agency are necessary for creating a productive workplace. The mixture of differences and similarities each member brings to the workplace strengthens our ability to accomplish our mission. Diversity is not limited to ethnicity or gender. Embracing diversity goes far beyond the limits of equal employment opportunity and affirmative action. Embracing our varied talents and abilities empowers each individual to be heard and participate equally in whatever activity, process, department, or administrative structure one chooses to engage in.

Initiative 3A: Recruitment Resources
Develop, acquire and provide a variety of recruitment resources to assist ESOs improve recruitment practices.

Initiative 3B: Standardized, Model Job Descriptions
Model job descriptions for standardized fire and EMS service positions

Initiative 3C: Tools to Ensure Recruitment of a Qualified, Diverse Workforce
Create a tool for ESOs to review their recruitment procedures to ensure the recruitment of a qualified and diverse workforce

Challenge 4: Retention of Organizational Members

It is critical for emergency service organizations (ESOs) to retain qualified members and maintain organizational unity. The inability of an organization to maintain experienced staffing increases risks to the individual member the community as a whole. The lack of data necessary to quantify why volunteer members are leaving ESOs makes it difficult to identify the local and national trends that affect volunteer-based staffing.

Initiative 4A: Resources to Improve Volunteer Retention Rates
Develop, acquire, and make available volunteer retention resources to assist ESOs improve retention rates.

Initiative 4B: Resources that Support Model Business Practices and Organizational Systems
Develop and provide resources that support the establishment of model business practices and organizational support systems.

Challenge 5: Organizational Structure, Strategic and Financial Planning

Fire protection in North America is typically provided by a city or special district and in some cases the township, county, state or tribal government. In some communities it is provided by a private organization. There often are political bodies (authority having jurisdiction) who set the level of service and authorize the expenditure of funds generated by the community.

The current fire and EMS service delivery model, bylaws and rules can be perceived as outdated and entrenched in traditions that obstruct efficiencies and provision of professional services. This is illustrated by the lack of cooperation and regionalization in some areas. Many communities lack the ability to compel emergency service organizations (ESOs) to cooperate and share resources, which place the community at greater risk and costs more to operate. In some parts of the country, ESOs over-saturate the response area, while in others, resources are scarce.

A number of ESOs struggle with developing and implementing strategic plans consistent with the economic realities and needs of their communities. Often they lack understanding of need, value and benefit of using a sustainable and flexible business model as part of their planning processes. This makes it difficult for organizations to secure the predictable sources of funding necessary to ensure the effective delivery of emergency services. Because many communities are dependent on the expertise of their emergency service leaders to navigate this critical and complex challenge, it is imperative these leaders be trained in business model practices.

Initiative 5A: Information to Support Effective ESO Governance Structures
Develop, acquire, and provide information that supports the establishment of legal and effective ESO governance structures.

Initiative 5B: Tools to Determine Funding Needed to Provide Services at the Level Identified by the Community
Develop and provide model financial tools that assist ESOs determine funding needed to provide services at the level identified by the community.

Initiative 5C: Model Strategic Planning Tools
Develop and provide model strategic planning tools that assist ESOs develop long-term plans to deliver services at levels identified by the community.

Initiative 5D: Enhance Partnerships with Insurance Industry to Promote Risk Reduction Programs
Enhance existing partnerships with the insurance industry to promote risk reduction programs.

Challenge 6: Legislation and Regulations

Current law and regulations, both at the state and federal level, create impediments to the sustainability of volunteer emergency service organizations (ESOs). In some cases, laws and rules of agencies from the same level of government conflict creating confusion and risk of violation by ESOs. Additionally, many legislative definitions are vague or absent, which leads to ambiguous interpretation of rules and regulations (i.e. line of duty death, definition of a volunteer, etc.). Finally, rules regarding the same matters vary significantly from state to state. Some examples include:

  • IRS regulations regarding volunteer compensation
  • Workers compensation regulations that create employee/employer relationships
  • Union rules preventing career firefighters from being volunteer firefighters
  • Environmental rules that restrict burn‐to‐learns
  • NFPA standards are not scalable based on organizational differences

Many volunteer-based ESOs are unaware of the challenges they face due to these issues. As a result, there is no consensus within ESOs for volunteer emergency responder legislation.

Initiative 6A: State Regulations on Volunteer/Combination ESO Operation
Catalog the rules and regulations of each state relating to operation of a volunteer/combination ESO. Prepare a self-assessment tool for ESOs to allow them to determine their level of compliance.

Initiative 6B: Model Mutual and Automatic Aid Agreements
Acquire or develop, and share available model mutual aid and automatic aid agreements.

Initiative 6C: Legislation/Regulations to Resolve Critical Volunteer ESO Issues
Develop and propose legislation and/or regulations to resolve critical issues facing volunteer ESOs.

Challenge 7: Reputation Management

Reputation management is the foundation of viable emergency service organizations (ESOs). ESO members are held to a higher standard and trust must be maintained. News media, increased communication technology and sensationalized journalism all make the emergency service vulnerable to imprudent actions that can do immediate and long-term damage to the reputation of the ESO and emergency service overall.

No matter how careful and prepared an organization is, unforeseen and unfortunate events are a reality of the business and must be planned for.

Initiative 7A: Protect and Enhance ESO Reputation, Crisis Communications
Provide information sharing and develop model programs that will assist ESOs in their efforts to manage, protect, and enhance their reputations and conduct crisis communications.

Challenge 8: Fire-based EMS

EMS has long been a function of emergency service organizations (ESOs) in many parts of the U.S. In other areas EMS is just becoming an ESO service. Issues regarding scope of practice, deployment, response workload, funding and others create challenges for ESOs that must be addressed in a proactive manner.  Consequences of inattention to the challenges can include declines in volunteer retention rates.  Additionally ESOs must ensure it is providing significant input into EMS system design and provider regulations.

Initiative 8A: Tools to Determine if and Level of EMS Is Appropriate for Community, and Conduct Ongoing Service Evaluation
Develop and deliver tools and training to assist ESOs determine if EMS is an appropriate service to be provided to their community, what level of service to provide, and to conduct ongoing evaluation of EMS services delivered.

Initiative 8B: Increase VCOS Involvement in Development of National EMS Certification Criteria
Increase the involvement of VCOS in the development of national EMS provider certification criteria.