Manchaca Fire/Rescue (MVFD) serves the areas just south of the city of Austin, Tex., to the Travis County boundary line. The coverage area includes about 14 square miles and a population of 9,000. It’s a combination department and most of our personnel are volunteers, but four firefighters—paid and volunteer—are on duty at two stations 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
MVFD has worked hard for many years to develop a successful recruitment and retention program. To eliminate burn out and to stop doing the same basic training for new members each month, we changed our bylaws to only accept applications twice a year for a few years, and now we only accept applications once a year. We put the new members through our own academy and each individual gets the same level of training at the same time.
Not only has this helped with the competency of the individuals, but in addition, the instructors can now focus on other types of classes to teach. With 52 members in 2011, we reviewed 26 applications for membership and accepted 18 new members to the department in January.
We found that those who are really interested in helping the community and becoming members will wait for a new membership process to begin even if they have to wait most of the year because they missed a deadline.
Our most successful recruitment tools are:
- Placing advertisements in community and homeowner associations newsletters and local newspapers
- Posting announcements on our website
- Hosting community events
- Participating in the 4th of July parades
- Affixing posters in area businesses
- Answering requests for information about the department promptly
- Visiting events on invitation by the BOY SCOUTS, 4H Clubs, Rotary, VFW and birthday parties
- Delivering excellent service to our customers so we’re well-respected in the community
Our retention program tools are:
- Offering response incentives that award responders based on their activity level at training, responses, shifts pulled and check out of the medical response unit
- Offering an accidental sickness plan for volunteers
- Offering LOSAP awards and immunizations for firefighters and their families
- Making our stations homelike so members and their families feel welcome
- Hosting an annual awards banquet
- Offering fire academy scholarships
- Having desirable giveaways at our training sessions and meetings
- Hosting pool parties at our members’ homes
- Hosting BBQ cookouts
Our programs are reviewed yearly by all our members through participation in round-table discussions; at these discussions, we consider what we can do to improve our incentive plans and brainstorm new ideas for recruitment.
In addition, we have picked up a lot of good tools and information about successful programs from various programs, such as the retention and recruitment class offered by the State Firemen’s and Fire Marshals’ Association of Texas, the IAFC’s Leadership Guide For Combination Fire Departments and other successful R&R programs.
We have also hosted the Beyond Hoses & Helmets course offered by the IAFC’s Volunteer & Combination Officers Section, which has an in-depth educational component on retention and recruitment.
We’re proud of our consistent success in recruiting and retaining volunteers at Manchaca Fire/Rescue and were very proud last year to have been selected as the winner of the VCOS Retention and Recruitment Award, sponsored by VFIS and presented at the VCOS Symposium in the Sun.
Chris Barron is the fire chief for Manchaca (Tex.) Fire/Rescue and executive director of the State Firemen's and Fire Marshals' Association.