Where's the line? Can selfish survive/excel in the Volunteer Fire Service? While preparing some recruiting materials I can't seem to determine just how far is too far.  The material must appeal to the 18-24 crowd that seems to have grown up with a hyper focused "What's in for me!?" attitude I barely understand. Smart phone, ipod & internet, love 'em, but I would trade all of them in a nanosecond to be there for a neighbor I never met when it really counts. Of course this motivation developed over time, but my starting place was different than today's young adults.

Interested to know your thoughts on what does this Generation expect. Especially if you are GenY please help me understand the target audience.What slogans will attract them for the right reasons? How do we mentor them? OK, now they're standing in front of us and it's our oppurtunity to say our thing; what's going to work/not work? There's a pile of articles, blogs & books available; please, I really value your personal advice & experiences. Can you help put me back in touch with this generation?

I hope to share any successes later this month.

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We've found that technology attracts them.  Lure them through several web-based sources such as Twitter, Facebook, websites, etc.  On our website people can fill out a form and send us the info.  That ties with word-of-mouth as our number one recruiting tool.

You will also need to have tech in the station - t.v., game console(s), wireless internet access.  I'm not joking, they just about expect it.  It attracts them and retains them.  Don't try to rationalize the "why."  We have a group of guys who is at our station with those things just about at all times.  At any given time there will be 8-12 there.

Now, keeping them motivated....  You hit the nail on the head with the "what's in it for me" attitude.  If you figure that out, let everyone know.  Getting them to train - especially hard - can be taxing.  Getting them to do "everyday" tasks, such as apparatus checkoffs, can be the same.  Their social life is leaps and bounds what we older guys' had at the same age.

Another problem is that this generation seems to be more "bottle rocket"-ish.  They do a couple of fire ground tasks, and they're done.  I hate to sound like a parent, but for us it falls back to diet and hydration.  They might wake up, have a soft drink, and not eat until 1 p.m.  Throw in a fire late morning, and they're running on empty. 

We have had at least 2 to 3 18 year old's join are department every year for the past 3 years. Some because there parent is on the department and some from just watching our mock MVA we do at the school just before the prom. At any case we have stuff to keep them interested. We have the pool table and always have Soda and candy bar's at the fire house so they will bring there friends down to shoot a game or two drink some soda or gator aid and hang out. We also have a points system that earns you a $1.00 a point which you can use to order a coat or tool ect up to 150 points a year. You earn points from making meetings, practices and work details. Me and a couple other's give them are cell phone numbers so if they want to go over anything in the fire house we will make ourselves available to meet them there at anytime. I also make it a point to ask them what they would like to do for practice night and i set that up just for them once a month. I have over the last couple years found this to be a great way to keep them interested because they have picked out what they want to practice and it shows them that we care about there future as a FF. I thought this to be a silly idea at first when it was brought up to me but it has worked very well. I think this really gives them a sense of pride and also boost there confidence so they are not intimidated by the older FF on the department because they are getting a say in something before they have even taking there  FF1 class. So i guess the best thing to do is make them feel like they belong and are a part of the greatest family on earth The Family of Fire Fighters.

Thanks Randy and Derek

Great feedback. Good initiatives on your part. I would say we are about halfway there.

My bigger question is how can we connect with them. Coming up wih catch phrases and keywords is not easy and downright frustrating.

Ok so less judging and more searching. For the first time in my life I am sensing a significant disconnect with a generation. We need to involve them before it's too late for them and us. What are they looking for? What do they want to hear?

Here are the keywords on the flyer from most prominent to least.

Volunteer for Success (crossword style)
Local Fire & EMS Agencies will be here....

...can benefit you and your community

Tuition Reimbursement
Career exploration, personal and professional growth, teamwork skills, income tax credits,

April15-21 is national volunteer week.

Wish us luck. The good guys didn't give up on us, it's now our turn to keep the faith and pay it back.

Just don't know what to expect. Wish us luck.

 Wes, At least you are trying it is a little easier here for me because i coached youth sports for years so most of the guys joining know me any way from being there coach either at soccer, baseball or basketball. My advice is when you see young people in the community make a effort just to say hi and ask how they are. You will find a lot of them will talk your ear off but they remember the fact that you listened and that may just be what gets them to join your department.

 Best of luck to you and your department.

Wes this is the million dollar question that plagues many volunteer departments including my own. As I read some of these replies there's a lot of great ideas. I've attended several workshops on the subject and have a couple more for instance we added some gym equipment at the fire hall this helps on two fronts.One it promotes FF fitness and two attracts the younger athletic crowd. But I must say the points system for swag is a good one and one I plan to try as well. Training in public is always a good one to show the community what we're up to and spark interest in the younger crowd. Good Luck

The key, no matter the age of the target audience, is to tap into Maslov's Heirarchy of Needs.


The needs are the same reagrdless of age, they just may need them to be meet in a different way. People in that age grouop still want to be, as a rule part of the team, so focus much of your recruiting on ex-high school athletes still looking fo ther  "team" they left behind. If you have multiple stations, have different station t-shirts and mottos to promote the small team, and use that small team concept at drills and training for good natured competition and projects. reward the stations for best appearence or best response as that will also encourage the "small team". And yes, don't forget that you are still a big team as well, so do things to push the team concept on that level as well.


Focus on the physical challenge to attract folks who may be looking for a physical challenge, or an additional challenge. Gyms, sports clubs such as rock climbing, cave exploring, etc., and ball leagues may be a good places to start ramping up your recruiting efforts.


Focus on the self-actaulization opportunties offered by the fire department - training, advancement, specilaity skills, etc to attract those lloking to improve themselves, or looking to be a part of something much bigger than themselves, and yes, despite some evidence to the contrary, there are folks in that age group looking for that.


Now, once you draw them in with that ... Make sure that internally you can deliver and do deliver, or else members will leave as it's not what you portrayed. Make training physically challenging for those that want that. Offer additional "physical opportunties" such as competitions such as Combat Challenge, Mini-Combat Challenges in-house, obstacles courses and extra very physical training such as rapid intervention for those that truly want to be physically challenged. On the other side, offer training and projects that involve mental challenges and significant planning for those that want challenges on the intellectual side. Make sure you do offer opportunities for advanced training and there are real possibilities for promotion.


Make sure that your department has goals that are posted that strive for the greater good beyond firefighting in areas such as prevention and community involvement, and make sure your department actually does those things and not just says them.  


Make sure that your department rewards perople, and remember, not everyone is looking for the public reward. For some a simple pat on the back by the Station Captain when they are alone is fine. For others, a picture on the wall or acknowledgement at a meeting will go a very long way towards keeping them motivated and on board. Point systems as the OP described are a great way to motivate people, as long as it's fair and everybody has an equal shot at the points.

So it appears Im the first one posting from Generation Y. Ill go into background on why Im ashamed of being included into that category but nonetheless I am.

1) I am military, come from a military family and was raised no different than my dad was raised by his Dad and Im proud of that fact.

2) I joined the fire dept as a junior at age 14.

Anyways, thats just a little on how I refuse to accept the Gen Y stereotype without a fight.

As for your recruiting efforts, think video games. Modern Warfare 3 seems to be the biggest hit out there in the gaming world and is what everyone in our age group is able to recognize. Its a dark, high speed-low drag game that is the coolest things. Something that not the average, or even higher than average American gets to experience. Look at the Air Force commercials, they are showing this high speed space outfit unit that diverts a satellite from hitting space junk then everyone transforms into Air Force uniforms and makes the typical low key job seem very similar to that Modern Warfare game. Trust me, I have been in the fire service for 9 years and still get a smile on my face like a 4 year old when I arrive to the station and get on the truck to go to the next call whether its a medical call or a 4 alarm box. But to appeal to the youth of today such as myself, appeal to video games.

Also, from my perspective and some of my close firefighter friends, we joined the department for the brotherhood, to help your fellow neighbor out and to learn some of the best training you can get into. I will be the first to say that Im not the hardest working sometimes on scenes but I give 150% every single time. I look up to those who are senior and I pass down anything I have learned to those who are junior. That being said, I would NOT be trying to recruit these selfish "Occupy" kids who would join the department then immediately be gunning for the chiefs position. Thats NOT what you want. Spoken from experience, guys and gals like myself are out there. They are rare, even rarer than when you guys were around, but they are out there and you will want them in the jump seat and not some guy that comes in based off of a cool recruiting poster with a cool slogan.

In my honest opinion, the BEST way you can get people in, is go to the schools and show them the ease of applying. That was my problem the first time I applied at 14. I had no idea how to do it. With texting and email being the popular communication, no one knows how to pick up a phone and ask questions anymore. My latest department made it extremely easy in that it was a matter of filling out an application online, submitting it and the next day someone contacted me with everything I need to do. Thats your best bet is to have a web-based recruiting tool.

Sorry I went on a ramble there but I really hope this helps. Feel free to contact me with anything you like. Recruiting the right people is a big thing for me because I come from a rural department that we lost more members than we gained and no one did anything about it.

Thank you Corey,


Your thoughts are helpful. Stereotyping anyone is judging, wait and see who they really are and help them become what they can. I meet new people everyday in my work and have to remind myself of this daily. We're lucky to have a few younger guys in house that are not typical. We seem to connect pretty well.

I believe, to a certain point, we can still make a difference in the lives of the late high school and early college age kids. When I was younger some people were still saying things to the effect of "we will  always need ditch diggers", inferring that poor students would end up doing crappy jobs. After being out of school for close to 30 years, some of those so called "ditch digger" kids are doing quite well and some of the kids that seemed to have it all aren't doing so well. Blew that stereotype out of the water.

It sounds like soon enough you may be making a difference in the life of some younger guys yourself. I am hopeful the guys/gals like yourself that are out there will consider giving the firehouse a try. We've done several of the things you and others have mentioned but must continue to change our approach more.

I keep going back in time to see forward and progress has changed a lot who is allowed to volunteer. That's the reality, not always a perfect answer but better none-the-less progress for the better.

Appreciate your thoughts



I understand the need to get (and keep) new members.  Unfortunately things are different now and young people often leave the area for education or employment.  So unless a person is going to college or working in the area, it appears to me there is little to offer.

Since a person under the age of 18 can't work on the fireground the only reasonably viable new members would be those 18 and older.  A department has to weigh the cost of training a member versus the time that member will stay in the department.  It might sound reasonable to train and equip a recent high school graduate -that may go  to college- on the assumption that this person may be around on weekends, during semester breaks and summer.  But I suspect the reality is that for many that go off to college, take additional or summer classes, internships, travel and simple downtime may push off responding to their VFD.  So what has the department gained over what it has spent?

Interestingly, in another discussion here about the membership of a Canadian department quitting, a study was done and one of the recommendations was to explore reaching out to 35-55 year old community members, as they are typically working, established and are (often) physically able to perform firefighter duties.

Obviously the upside to 35-55 year olds is that they live in town and may simply be looking for an opportunity to get involved.  They have the maturity and stability that would make them good members.  The downside though is that they may often have to travel for work or have family commitments that may preclude as robust an engagement such as might be given by someone in the 18-25 year old range.

However, family commitments not withstanding and barring unforeseen life- or job-changing events, residents in the 35-55 range appear to be the most suitable group in which to find new members.

Presuming you can entice residents in the 35-55 range to join I suspect that becoming a firefighter, being part of the department and serving the community becomes it's own reward.  Other than station duties and training I further suspect that not a lot of those members would be down at the firehouse playing video games or watching TV.

Yet an enticement for this older group would be property tax abatements, since anything that can save a homeowner money would always be appreciated.  Given that many in this age range might have children, babysitting coupons might be an appropriate show of appreciation, as would free dining-out coupons.  It should be recognized that where only one spouse is involved in the fire department the other, willingly or otherwise is tangentially involved.  Be it having to watch the kids, entertain the in-laws, miss a movie or school meeting the odd-man-out spouse or partner is eventually going to feel put upon.  Needs of that person should be explored and addressed in terms of retention of married members.

Recruitment efforts for the 35-55 year range could be effected at any number of venues.  From the hardware store on Saturdays, to parent-teacher events at the local school(s).  For many in this age group the thought of becoming a volunteer firefighter just doesn't come up on their radar. [Another retention inducement -which was suggested by someone I know- was in rural (or suburban) areas that have landfill/waste transfer stations and charge for an annual dump permit, offering the permit at a reduced fee or for free can also be considered.]

Most of what I read in here often suggests reaching out to schools and getting the soon-to-graduate interested but, as pointed out early on, you may have them only for a few months or a year or two before they move on to college or seek employment.  All the above being said, if it's not possible to find new members simply because people don't want to be bothered, get involved or find it either to much of a commitment or too dangerous then a department can only do what it can do and the community gets the fire protection it deserves.

Regarding Maslov's Heirarchy of Needs, interestingly this is most often sited in Marketing and Business Management programs, and is used as a way to either motivate consumer purchases or increase productivity of employees.

[An example given: 

You can't motivate someone to achieve their sales target (level 4) when they're having problems with their marriage (level 3).

You can't expect someone to work as a team member (level 3) when they're having their house re-possessed (level 2).]

Maslov's Heirarchy of Needs are by-and-large hierarchical, in that the previous need has to be met before the subsequent need can be met.  There is some disagreement with this and speaks to cultural differences as well as individual differences. Granted that an understanding of this principal may help to keep individuals 'happy' and there may perhaps only be a finite set of personality 'types,' for a VFD that already has funding and recruitment issues, such a department may be hard pressed to come up with all the necessary ways and means to keeping all of its members 'happy.'

[A person with self-esteem issues who joins seeking prestige, status or some other quality of self-esteem may realize it and be happy, or may never find it and will never be happy.]

It seems (at least to me) that by being upfront with a member (as well as reminding existing members) that the whole purpose of their joining (or remaining members) is to be a functioning part of a necessary service; Fire Protection.  This is not to say an annual dinner of appreciation, perqs, benefits or stipends of some flavor won't go a long way to grease the wheels but if a person joins to find or gain self-esteem and is included in all of the inducements and is still not happy then most likely their needs go far beyond what a VFD can offer.  For those people that are striving to be the 'hero' (and they are out there) or need expansive publicity or public appreciation, they are in it for the wrong reasons and probably are never going to be happy.

As people's levels of 'happiness' can fluctuate and they can move up or down the Hierarchy at any given time it seems presumptuous to burden  task a volunteer fire department with keeping everyone happy all of the time.  The Mission is to protect life and property; if 'self-actualization' comes about as a result, fine, but I can't see a department putting a lot of time or effort into that.  If a video game or wi-fi makes a person happy and it's cheap enough to accomplish, fine.  But I doubt that having either is going to induce or retain firefighters.

Looking at the Maslov's Heirarchy of Needs (and the more recent expansion of the levels) it strikes me that gains in personal growth, self-esteem, new skills and any number of things attributable to the Hierarchy can all be found in a VFD, it's only left to the individual to achieve those gains.


I fit into the plan you outined in many ways except that I was brought into the organization while still in college myself. Didn't actually join because of career choices but was active in anyway I could until I was able to join in firematic activities.

Gotta agree bubba (affectionately said) targeting the core group should be key focus. Having some younger faces in the crowd seems to balance things well. The average age continues to increase around us and well that's great from an experience standpoint it seems takes a long time in the rural areas to gain the experience necessary to accomplish today's goals safely.

We'll save the question "is it worth it" for a later time. There's plenty of selfish attitudes to go around out there but can it work for the volunteer fire service? Attitudes are still developing at these younger ages. If this generation of young adults works with some older generations will some of these values rub off?

Jack, do you have any personal experience to relate about working with this generation? For me, a little more than 25 years ago some older (grumpy) guys I didn't even know from Adam welcomed me in and I'm still in it. Those guys helped shape me and many others. Is it still the same? The generations haven't changed that much have they?

Thanks for all your time.

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