SAFER Volunteer Workforce Solutions: Helping To Solve Recruitment and Retention Issues

Return to the March 15, 2012 issue of On Scene

IAFC On Scene: March 15, 2012

The SAFER Volunteer Workforce Solutions (VWS) program continues to move forward in its effort to help solve the recruitment and retention issues faced by volunteer fire departments in the United States. The VWS program is actively partnered with the Virginia Fire Chiefs Association in 20 departments across the Commonwealth.

Those volunteers being recruited through a state’s SAFER VWS program will become an integral piece of the fire protection and emergency medical services for their jurisdictions at a minimal cost to the locales they serve.

While the program is already seeing many successes within the Commonwealth of Virginia, program team members have also learned some lessons for the future.

Dedicate a Volunteer Coordinator in Each Fire Company and Region

First and foremost, having a dedicated volunteer coordinator within each fire company as well as a regional or county volunteer coordinator is essential.

When individuals decide they want to be volunteer firefighters, they expect to receive a response immediately. A department may lose the opportunity to bring new members on board if they don’t hear back from the department in a timely manner.

Potential members are an extremely valuable resource and their availability has a shelf life; if volunteers aren’t making progress in becoming members with one particular department, they’ll find another department, perhaps more welcoming, to volunteer their time to.

Centralize the Application Process

Second, having a centralized application process helps a department track its intake of prospective volunteers.

This is a duty the regional or county volunteer coordinator could be in charge of: bringing in new applications and dispersing them to the various fire companies as well as collecting and processing information from applicants who initially contact a fire company.

Obtain Support and Buy-in at All Levels

Finally, for a county or statewide recruitment campaign to succeed, support is needed from every level, especially the company level. The individual fire company is where the legwork takes place in a campaign, so buy-in is essential for success.

VWS Program Updates

Virginia Program Update

One participating department has gotten off to a strong start using geographic information systems to efficiently and effectively recruit new members. This combination department consists of two stations and provides fire suppression and advanced life support services to its residents.

Since the start of their September 2011 recruitment campaign, 15 individuals have applied to volunteer with the department. Of these 15, eight have been accepted and are in various stages of training as volunteer firefighters.

One of the larger participating counties, with 14 stations, is having tremendous success using conventional methods of recruitment, such as mail outs, banners and posters; this department has brought in an exceptional number of new members.

Since the start of their campaign in June 2011, the department has brought in 76 new members, who are making their way through the training process now.

These are just some of the results that come in on a monthly basis in Virginia’s program.

Connecticut Program Update

In Connecticut, department selection has taken place, the departments have been notified and memorandums of understanding are being returned. Thirty departments have been selected from across Connecticut, 15 using the GIS methodology and 15 using traditional practices.

In an act of solidarity between neighboring fire companies, many regions have been created for the purposes of the recruitment campaign. The VWS team is looking forward to a continuing partnership with the Connecticut Fire Chiefs Association and to working with the men and women of the Connecticut fire and emergency service.

Continuing to Move Forward

The VWS team has been working hard in Virginia and Connecticut, but they’re not stopping there. Big things are coming down the line as the team pursues additional funding and continue working to maintain workforce sustainability within volunteer fire departments across the nation.

Stephen Boensel is the program coordinator for the IAFC’s SAFER Volunteer Workforce Solutions program.

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