The IAFC's Volunteer and Combination Officers Section (VCOS) has been invited to participate as a member of a SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) working group with the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC).
The working group consists of subject-matter experts who'll lead and guide an effort to develop and implement a national volunteer recruitment and retention campaign. This effort will build on the success and momentum of existing efforts. This is a three-year project funded at approximately $2.39 million, ending in July 2017.
Members of the work group include a number of NVFC state directors, staff of the NVFC and representatives from the National Association of Hispanic Firefighters, the International Association of Black Professional Firefighters, Fire 20/20, Points of Life and the IAFC VCOS. Other organizations are being engaged to participate with the group.
They'll meet regularly via conference call and will meet in person for a limited number of meetings. The initial meeting was held in Lafayette, La., in conjunction with the NVFC biannual board meeting. This was an opportunity for the group to get together for an overview of the project and to discuss strategies and tactics for this national effort. While similar to past efforts of our organization and others, all partner organizations welcomed the opportunity to participate.
Concepts discussed include the need for fire service involvement and an overall commitment to the issue. Outreach and awareness to our volunteer and community leaders is needed.
If local government doesn't support the fire department and their recruitment and retention efforts, why would volunteers stay? What opportunities are there to improve on the successful practices of other organizations to help local departments?
What's needed, more recruitment or better retention? This has been the subject of debate at a number of levels within our service.
Are we seeking the assistance of those most affected by the challenges of recruitment and retention? We continue to survey our own members and usually it's a chief officer deciding how to market and develop these programs.
Surveys continue to show that poor leadership is a main reason for members leaving an organization. We need to look to those we're trying to recruit for their ideas. What conveys the need to their wanting to join? What do we offer that makes them stay, and how long do they remain?
We need to continue to educate our current and future leaders, as they have a large influence on the success of the volunteer and combination fire service in their communities.
There are many challenges. What's an effective way to appeal to potential recruits? How is success measured? Does bringing a potential member into an organization for one year or less, or maybe two to three constitute success? Do we expect the same commitment to our organization as we did 10-20 years ago?
While this article leaves some unanswered questions, I look forward to representing the VCOS on this workgroup and welcome your input and suggestions, as we continue to address the recruitment and retention issue.