During the period of COVID 19, our North Carolina Association of Fire Chiefs’ Volunteer Workforce Solutions has seen an increase in the number of individuals that are seeking membership with a volunteer fire/rescue department. One would think that with COVID 19 being discussed full-scale across all media outlets that the numbers of volunteers would drop— this has not been the case thus far in North Carolina according to our recruitment and retention statistics. Now more than ever is the time to bridge the multigenerational divide within the fire service, to retain and recruit volunteers.
In a diverse world of generations, we as a fire service, still seem to struggle when it comes to retention and recruitment. In other words—it is hard to recruit volunteers and hard to keep them, whether in the fire service or other volunteer agencies. The shortage of volunteers is a crisis found within volunteer fire departments across the nation and in most other volunteer agencies. For this discussion, let's look at the similarities. Let us discuss volunteerism and ask ourselves the following questions: Could the lack of volunteers be because we have a perceived notion that we will never need additional volunteers? Could it be that our volunteers are leaving our departments and other agencies for reasons other than not having enough time to volunteer? What if we could approach statements like this head-on and get to some of the real reasons for the decline in volunteerism.
These are just a couple of crucial questions that we, as leaders in volunteer departments, need to be asking ourselves. As a senior member of a volunteer fire department in North Carolina, I have had the opportunity to see volunteerism in the fire service in its growth and decline in membership. Also, within my career in the fire service, I have had the opportunity to see that decline in volunteerism is not isolated to one area of the state or nation—this is becoming an epidemic. From the above questions and challenging times, we face in a world of decreasing numbers of volunteer firefighters comes an online training tool to assist, "Bridging the Multigenerational Divide in Your Department."
One of the main reasons this topic came to fruition is due to a few misconceptions among our volunteer firefighters and leaders. A correlation to this statement lies in relation to generational differences. I feel confident that most of you have heard about "that younger generation" or "what does he/she have to offer—they haven't done this before?" All questions "we" have heard from some of our members or maybe thought or said ourselves at some point.
We have learned within this process, and the message we are trying to convey, that every human being has enormous potential. Many times, we gauge our incoming candidates by how we look, what we believe, our strengths, etc. Example—if ABC Volunteer Fire Department looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and talks like a duck—well, they all must be ducks. If a new applicant fills out an application and does not resemble a duck –well, you get the picture. Before the applicant had the opportunity to talk with anyone or ask any questions about the department, that person had already been stereotyped by the department's members and/or leaders. What trend are we setting here, and why? This is another one of the questions that can be answered by taking the course. As leaders and members of departments, we should understand that before we utilize our stereotypes and biases on any given situation or applicant, we should take a step back, assess the potential we have in the applicant, and more than anything—communicate with one another. Statistics have shown that people want to volunteer and that people want to be a part of their community. It is up to us to change our mindset by making our folks feel welcome and needed for retention and for recruitment.
The North Carolina Association of Fire Chiefs (NCAFC), in partnership with the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), presents this new online course, "Bridging the Multigenerational Divide in Your Department." This is a self-paced course estimated at taking one hour +/- to complete. It is designed to help fire officers and firefighters learn how to work better across different generations to enhance team performance. Our goal was to include the information necessary in the course allowing participants to learn to recognize generational biases, identify how biases impact interpersonal communications, demonstrate communication strategies and ultimately be a good agent for change in your department. This course is available for free on the IAFC Academy.
There are currently 412 students enrolled in the program—61 in the progress of completing the program and 278 students with successful completion. Being self-paced allows the student to log-in and out at any time without losing any of the information you have obtained. It also allows the student to return to the previous modules completed for review if needed. The NCAFC utilized subject matter experts across North Carolina to assist in creating the course content to bring you the best product possible. We have obtained more than satisfactory comments on the program and look forward to hearing from others that complete the course evaluation.
In conclusion, we hope that by participating in the IAFC Learning Academy and participating in the "Bridging the Multigenerational Divide in Your Department" online course, each student learns to recognize generational biases and identify how biases impact interpersonal communications, and ultimately be a promising change agent.
Chief Tracy Mosley is a thirty-one year veteran of the fire service following in the footsteps of his Father—William L. Mosley who served in both the volunteer fire and rescue services of Wilson County. He also serves as a program coordinator at the North Carolina Association of Fire Chiefs.