Where do we go when recruitment becomes non existent in some communities?

Where does everyone see the volunteer departments going that are no longer able to recruit people? We have had signs up and adds in the paper the last 3 years and we cant get people in our coverage area which comprises of a village and 3 townships. We maybe have had 4 inquiries but none can either pass a background check or a drug test?? We usuaully run around 70-80 fire calls (alarms, structures, vehicles, MVA's) and 200-250 EMS runs. We have have guys ready to retire but nobody inline to replace them.

 

I guess im just concerned about 5 years from now. We all have regular jobs and many of us work 2 jobs. Are communities like us going to have to just suck it up and hire full timers to ensure a response even though we dont have all that high of call volumes? What needs to be done. The people in our area obviously dont have an interest in become Firefighters/EMTs with all the recruitment we have done. Eventually response is certain to go badly.

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Central New York State, Town of Truxton, Cortland County.

What do you do when you're in a rural area and no one wants to volunteer? Our demographic is so bad that there is virtually no interested. We get the dead beats and gossip mongers, that's about it. Occasionally someone will show up, make a meeting, then we don 't see them again. Latest recruits are a couple who left and we thought they were gone. Why the chief let them back in, I don't know. Their membership vote is coming up and I know most of the troops are gonna wimp out and let them in, then bitch about what they screw up. He is afraid of fire, and she can't walk in the door without directions. If it wasn't for our core group we would be in deep doo doo.

I  see both sides of this issue.

My current combo department, where i am employed full-time, has 80 plus firefighters (interior and exterior-only), support pesonnel, juniors and dispatchers supported by 8 full-time personnel. We do absolutly no recruiting and generally have 3-4 walk in the door each month to volunteer.

 

In fact, our issue is that we really have too many volunteers to manage effectivly.

 

My volunteer department is another story. It is a very small community of probably 3000 over about 80 square miles. Population tends to be older. We have a total roster of about 15 with 7-8 being truly active.

 

Luckily we border a small city with a combo department. They will respond all 5 on-duty personnel to any incident, and then will respond volunteer members if required as they become available. We also border my combo department, and tghey will respond a significant number of personnel if requested. Without sitting in between those two resources, manpower would be an significant issue.

 

Lucily we have a very small call volume of less than 80 calls per year and average less than one structure fire per year, so for most incidents (tres down, car fires, routine MVAs), we have enough manpower. We have implemented a automatic mutual aid plan for structure fires until our staffing situation improves.

 

In the last year, we have tried lawn signs at our stations and an article in the local paper, with minimal results. We just decided to spend almost $600 on a mass mailing to all homes in the district. If we do not get significant results from this, I have no idea where to go from here.

Looking at your particuliar situation, I would suggest some ideas.

 

1) Automatic mutual aid. Are there other nieghboring departments in the same situation?  if so, develop an automatic aid plan for all calls with specific apparatus assignemnts for specfic types of calls.

 

2) Regional Response - Similiar tyo auto aid except that multiple departments function almost as one. As example would be the northern end of the parish where the 4 departments in that area all respond to each others calls if they are availble. That includes responding to the other departments stations if they are in that area to ride on another departments apparatus. For them, it works quite well.

 

3) Look crittically at your recruiting. Do you define potential groups for membership? Have you determined what about the fire service that may attract them? have you developed specific messages for each group based on what may attract them? Have you delivered these specific messages to the specific places you may find these specific groups? Has the person in charge of recruiting done some research into marketing methodology?

 

Without knowing specifics about your area I can only make a few general suggestions.

 

Feel free to contact me at bcallahan@bpfd1.org if you think that I may be able to help you further.

Bob,

Based on what you're saying here, you have NO problems finding vollies at your paid/combi department. Yet you do have a problem at your vollie department.  So apparently population density (population/area) is a strong determinant in successfully reaching potential members, which makes sense.  The more members of a community the more likely it will be there are enough interested people to want to join a fire department.  The lower the density the fewer interested. In fact, you "...do absolutly no recruiting and generally have 3-4 walk in the door each month to volunteer."

But then it gets confusing; In another discussion about finding volunteers you said this:

"1. Recognize that recruiting is hard work, and a speciality. Recruiting isn't just something that you do in a hurry - it requires identifying your departments strengths, identifying who in your community is likely yo volunteer and just as importantly, why they will volunteer, developing a message for those incorporating the reasons they are likely to volunteer and delivering the messages to those target audiences in multiple ways and multiple places."

So maybe you can explain what you've done and how successful you've been, in the volunteer fire department that you're talking about.  Because here again, you say:

"In the last year, we have tried lawn signs at our stations and an article in the local paper, with minimal results. We just decided to spend almost $600 on a mass mailing to all homes in the district. If we do not get significant results from this, I have no idea where to go from here."  

Have you tried "...identifying your departments strengths, identifying who in your community is likely yo volunteer and just as importantly, why they will volunteer, developing a message for those incorporating the reasons they are likely to volunteer and delivering the messages to those target audiences in multiple ways and multiple places.

Yes, it is more than throwing a few signs and posters up."

It appears that is precisely what you've done; lawn signs, an article in the local paper and now a mass mailing, are you following your own advice?  Because in the "The Demise of the volunteer fire service" discussion you were on fire with ideas to find new members.

Or maybe you're discovering what many already have: That there are going to be communities in which nobody wants or is able to join their volunteer fire department. And no tactic is going to work. Mostly, a case of diminishing returns.  Dissolution or merger would be the best bet in such situations.

You made it sound so easy in the other discussion, the steps to take, to send people to college marketing/HR classes, but the reality is, getting someone to join a volunteer fire department is NOT the same as getting them to buy a hamburger.  Two completely different approaches.  You're seeking people willing to give up home, family and free time to risk injury or death for the good of the community.  You don't find those people by treating them like hamburgers ("utilizing the same marketing principles that are used to sell soap, hamburgers or any other product...")

I also find it interesting that in other discussions you were at bat for letting anybody and everybody through the door, that there was a place for everyone.  But here you say you:

"80 plus firefighters (interior and exterior-only), support pesonnel, juniors and dispatchers supported by 8 full-time personnel...we really have too many volunteers to manage effectivly."  How can too many be a bad thing?  It's certain to alleviate burn-out from too many calls and I suspect boredom isn't a problem either.  In fact it's curious that the department is even combination given the apparent widespread involvement by the community.

So moving on, in the department you're paid at, you don't do any recruiting and are turning people away, while  at your other department you've more or less given up on finding new members; "I have no idea where to go from here."  So in one department your skills aren't needed and in the other department your skills aren't helping.

Sorry if I'm raking you over the coals here Bob but you chime in with seemingly easy, feel-good, ever optimistic answers and *solutions* that, even by your own admission don't, or at least aren't, working for your own VFD.  You've railed about FF1, standards in general, local control and their own standards yet, even allowing for all of that your VFD can NOT get new members. 

So your arguments on no/low standards, no FF1, interior/exterior FFs not withstanding (and certainly not working to your VFDs benefit) when there are no people interested in joining their fire department no amount of *marketing* and no amount of lowering of standards is going to help.  So previous discussions to the contrary, standards are not what's causing the demise of the volunteer fire service, simple lack of interest and an even simpler lack of people, will cause certain VFDs to disappear. [Unless you make your fire district hover-round accessible.] 

So again, how have your claims for lowering/eliminating entry/training standards and your marketing strategies paid off in your own VFD?  And why?

First of all, there are some very significant demographic differences, beyond size, between my volunteer and combo districts.

My combo district tends to have a fair amount of transient movement, especially among the young with significant rental property and new development. Most of the folks that come in are folks that have just recently moved there. Because of that, the flip side is we also experience some significant turnover as many of them tend to move out within a year or two.

My volunteer district, on the other hand, has a very limited number of rentals,with very little new construction, and the population tends to be much older and settled. Most of our members actually live in the neighboring small city and volunteer for both us, and the combo department in that city.

One of the biggest issues that we face that in m,y volunteer district, there are very few places to deliver messages to those most likely to volunteer. We have a convenience store, and 2 liquor stores, and that's it. There are no gyms, athletic leagues, senior centers or essentially any other businesses that we can use to deliver targeted messages to targeted audiences, which is not an uncommon challenge for rural communities. Most of the typical avenues for the delivery of those messages lie in the neighboring city, and even though we have a very good relationship with them, the current Chief feels uncomfortable recruiting in their district. We will be doing some recruiting in the high school in November and December, but even that sits within the city limits.

I will also be quite honest here. Probably half the population of my volunteer community is black, and to be frank, there has never been much interest by the department in attracting blacks, and never much interest by the black community in joining the fire department. And we are not the only department in this area of the state where that is the case. is that an issue? Sure as hell is. And does it severely limit our ability to recruit? Oh ya. I don't want to get into a discussion about race here, but you and I both know that is a cultural issue that will take more than few recruiting cycles to solve.

We actually had about 10 more members leave within the past year and a half due to the implementation of  new training attendance requirements.  They decided they could not or did not want to meet the new requirements.

We now have an obstacle course new members must run to determine fitness, and they must pass through an officer board to determine their suitability. We also now have a 42-hour rookie class plus haz-mat Awareness they must take once they are accepted into the department. We took on 7 new members in the same period, but 5 have left stating that the department's requirements took up too much of their time.

In my previous VFD, where we were very successful, we had those type of outlets that we could utilize to deliver recruiting messages, and we were quite successful, but it was a suburban community with many of the services located within the community.

And yes, I stated that there would be communities where there would be minimal interest in joining the VFD. In those situations the challenge is somehow developing an interest within the community. That is seemingly becoming the case in my community, and based on what i have been seeing and hearing in the other departments in my volunteer parish, that is or is becoming the case in most of those communities as well.

I never said anything would be easy, but there are departments out there that do put very little planning, coordination and effort into recruiting and then complain when they do not get the results that they want.

I never stated that standards were the sole cause of the problems in the volunteer fire service. I stated time, children and competition of other hobbies as reasons as well, but certainly training time, as well as other department needs are a part of the problem. I do know that if you implemented FFI in this half of the state, just about every rule VFD and combo department would lose at least 25% of their members and many may lose up to 50%, rendering them in many cases unable to function.

Again, this isn't about your precious standards, but those standards some of you would likely like to see enacted will have a chilling affect on the volunteer fire service in many rural communities where there are, and never will be, any other viable options for fire protection.

Nonsense Bob, why haven't the majority of Wisconsin volly FDs crumbled into ruins from the implementation of Entry Level Firefighter that is 60 hours long?  That course is mandated by the state for ALL firefighters.  It is the beginning elements of FF1 certification in the state and if you continue and take the remaining module you add another 36 hours of training.  Then add the 24 hours fr haz-mat ops to that.

 

I wouldn't say all, and I might even be hard pressed to say most, but a good chunk of volunteer/POC FDs in my area require FF1 as a minimum training level.  A few have even gone so far as to make FF2 the minimum training standard.

 

Honestly, what have you lost, other than a warm body to make your head count look good, if those that don't want to meet your training standards quit and walk away?  I would rather have a good core of your 7 or 8 that are trained, go interior when needed, and keep up their training than another 10 or 20 or 30 that show up for the big one and haven't got a clue what to do.  Or worse, do the wrong thing and get somebody hurt or killed.

 

You don't like to hear it but the hard truth is some towns, villages, and even cities, should stop lying to their citizens about having a fire department and either merge, close down and let another FD cover, or hire full timers to fill in the gaps of coverage caused by inactive or non-existent volunteers.  I know your answer will be that those small towns can't afford paid people...then merge or have another FD cover your town.  The sad part is many of these sham FDs will struggle along for years and as long as no one dies, or no major fire loss occurs, everyone will be "Whew, we dodged the bullet AGAIN!"  But what happens when there is a fire and only 2 guys show up and there is a family trapped and all of them die because 2 people couldn't do squat and mutual aid was delayed in responding?  The truth comes out, fire departments get sued, and/or dragged through the press, for an inadequate reponse and the entire sham falls apart.  I am not against small town volly FDs, I have taught in dozens of them over my instructor career, what I am against is the falseness of saying you have a fire department, when in reality you don't. 

 

They aren't mine or Jack's or anyone else's here "precious standards", they are standards that the firefighting industry has settled upon, both nationally and state by state that firefighters are expected to meet.  You claim over and over that your state has no minimum training standards...perhaps they have no state mandated requirement but they do offer FF1 and more don't they?  Your FD at any time could mandate that as it's minimum training standard.  I consider myself fortunate to live in a state that has minimum required standards for training, not only for FFs, but for apparatus driver operators, AND fire officers.  It makes EVERY firefighter in the state be trained up to at least that minimum standard.  I have to say that my first POC FD had a requirement for taking the tech college's "Firefighter Basic" course LONG before any training was state mandated.  It never affected our ability to recruit having a higher than state required training standard.

 

I will never agree with your all inclusive give everyone bunkers and a helmet and say they are a firefighter idea of the fire service.  Anymore than I would give anyone that walked into a hospital and filled out an application a scalpel and say you do brain surgery today because we think everyone should be able to be a doctor. 

As you know from previous posts here, as well as the "other site", I did support a state minimum here in LA several years ago when it was brought up in a 50-hour format, which i suspect was quite simile to what you have in Wisconsin. I felt that it was relevant to the rural fire service, applicable and most importantly, reasonable in terms of time. It did not require Operations level, unlike FFI, and in the end, IMO it would have been a good fit for the state's rural departments.

Such a program has been in use by my volunteer department since the mid-70's with a tremendous amount of success. It was also adopted as the standard rookie class for 3 other neighboring automatic mutual aid departments in the late 90's as a joint class utilizing a shared pool of instructors and all 4 departments training facilities.

Due to a variety of reasons, it never made it out of legislative committee.

Am as you also know, I do not support any "warm body" being able to fight fire. Even for the exterior only personnel, I support internally developed rookie and continuing training standards and requirements that are developed by each department based on the way they utilize exterior members including fire behavior, building construction, forcible entry, ventilation, exterior RIT and exterior fire attack operations.

And I fully support any department that requires interior and exterior firefighting members meet a reasonable number of department training sessions per year and a requirement mandating a specific number of state-delivered training hours.

As far as your nightmare scenario, I think most small towns know exactly what they have for fire protection. I know that's the case in this part of the state. Word travels quickly when they see these rural departments in actions and there  are very few folks in these small communities that are under the illusion that they have a department which will make entry all of the time. And in very few if any places are there marchers in the street demanding change, because they are very well aware that the volunteer manpower, resources and funding doesn't exist to significantly change the situation without a dramatic increase in tax rates.

Sure, i would every department to be well staffed with interior trained members and reliable equipment capable of responding in numbers to do what they do in the cities, but that's just not going to be the case in many places, and I'm not foolish enough to say disband the fire department. As far as turning it over to another department, that's not easily done when we are talking about fire districts of 300 or 400 miles, which is very often the case here, where the next closest department's staion coul easily be 15 to 20 miles away, and in many cases, they are in the exact same situation.

Like it or not, the attitude regarding the VFD's place in life in very different here than it is in the north. Is that an excuse? I'm sure you will consider it one, but it's the way that it is. I'm not saying and never will say they are not dedicated, but for many volunteers there are things in their lives that come before the FD that you may not agree with. I have adjusted and understand that I can't have the attitude I did when up north regarding kicking folks to the curb.

It is definitely an excuse, an excuse that is hidden by a premise.  That premise is that EVERYONE that lives there knows their fire department is a sham and really the extent of their ability may in fact be to burn their house down without burning the whole town down with it.

 

The extent of your contribution to this topic is to make excuses for the pitiful state of the fire service in YOUR state and the attempt to project tht on to every small rural FD across the country.

 

As for you comment about not supporting an all inclusive fire service that is absolute bunk.  You want to call everyone that has some duty at the fire department a firefighter, even if all they do is rehab, or fill air bottles or do the admin work.  Sorry they are NOT firefighters.  They may in fact be a member of the fire deprtment but they are certainly NOT a firefighter which you have claimed over and over. 

One other thing that you could look into is to check with your county fire, ems and rescue association group and see if they don't have a county wide recruitment program and join it as a member of the committee.

I have been involved in our county recruitment committee for years. The committee asked members to attend the county fair and open houses for different events. We had produced our own recruitment videos some as 30 second TV ads and others as info videos to used at events.

We even have a recruitment phone number to call and then those that called and left info their info was past to stations close to where the interested party lived so the fire company could follow up. 

For some areas that maybe the way to go to do a county wide program.

Our state even has a state wide program to advertise for volunteer companies in the state and provide materials and even videos.

 

From my experience in both the northeast and the mid-south, there are many VFDs in multiple states that are either primarily or all exterior.

And yes, in my experience, the vast a majority of the residents are very familiar with the department's abilities and limitations.They fully realize, especially in very rural communities with extended districts that there is often very little the fire department can do if they live away from the fire station.

Maybe that's no the case in your area, but it is the case in many, many places throughout the country.

As far as wanting to call everyone who operates on the fireground a "Firefighter", You know that's not the case. The folks whose duties are limited to tasks such as changing/filling SCBA bottles, setting up lighting, taking photos, performing medical evaluation and assisting with rehab are support, and I have always labeled them as such as they are not directly involved.

As far as non-interior personnel that raise ladders, set up fans and may perform roof ventilation, perform forcible entry, operate exterior hoselines and perform exterior fire attack and setup water supply operations as well as may perform or directly assist with vehicle extrication and technical rescue operations, yes, they are and IMO always will be labeled as Firefighter as their efforts directly contribute to fire suppression.

Members that simply drive and pump apparatus as drivers only. members that drive but perform other fireground tasks as listed above IMO are firefighters as well.

UI have no issues with the fire service utilizing a variety of folks with a variety of skills, and yes, limitations as compared to your "every man is a rifleman theory", which IMO, makes no sense. The fact is utilizing a system like this can be very successful and in most, if not all cases, works out quite well if there are enough interior folks to make interior attack. If there is not, it's not the fault of the multi-level system..

Bob,

We will never agree and I will stand fast in my opinion that YOU are as WRONG as WRONG can be.  You want people that can't go interior then call them anything else, but they are NOT firefighters.

I also would very much like to meet these people that pay taxes for a fire department and willingly support that FD when they know that if they or their loved ones are trapped inside during a fire they are almost 100% guaranteed to die.  I think you are absolutely delusional if you believe that those same citizens you claim know this don't sue or make life a living hell for the Chief, the entire FD, and the governing body if their loved ones die and they lose everything they own as your idea of a fire department stands outside and sprays water on the smoldering remains.

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