I posted this on the Missouri Firefighters and Rural Firefighters groups in reply to the same question, how do we get more people into our department. I decided I would add it as on of my blogs also, sorry it is not about politics like my normal blogs.

From everything I have read it seems the National average for volunteer fire department membership is 0.3% of the population severed. That is to say for every 1000 people in your service area you should expect 3 volunteers. Some departments are as high as 0.75%. So the first thing to do is to look at your current situation. Are you below, equal to, or above the National average. If you are equal to or above the average you have pulled in all of the “natural” members you can get. These are the people who have a natural love for this work, and are willing to volunteer to their time and energy to do it. Most likely these people came to the fire department, no one had to go out and ask them to join.

Let me start with the department that is below the average in members. They may feel there task is hard, but in a way they have the easiest job. They have not gathered the low hanging fruit of the natural volunteer. The plan then is public education to the needs of the department, let people know you are there and you need volunteers. (this assumes that the department is well run, and the lack of volunteers is not because people try it and leave) Every parade, town event, fish fry etc, have a simple flyer ready to hand out telling people that you would like their help. Talk with local newspaper and radio stations about a quick article focused on the need for more volunteers.

Once they are in the department, make them feel wanted. Get them gear, give them good training, keep them challenged. You have expended time and energy to get them in, now spend some to keep them in.

The departments at or above the National average have a harder time. They have gathered the low hanging fruit, and now must move into the tree to get the stuff on the middle and upper limbs. The idea is to focus the efforts. Again, look at the current situation. Then apply solutions based on where you are at now compared to where you want to be. My department is slightly above the average, but most of our people are centered around one station, but another station has no one. Our plan it to contact people who live near the understaffed station and get them into the department.

Do you need just more people or do you need certain types of people, such as EMT‘s? If so, find ways to target the recruitment in those fields. Do you need people in certain areas of the district? And the always tough one, we need people 8-5 Monday through Friday. Have you thought about changing meeting requirements to meet the needs of people who work evenings and nights? Maybe they can come to the station and watch videos, or practice with the equipment taught by one experienced member of the department who is off during the day.

But most of all, keep the good people you already have, retailers know it costs 5 times more to get a new customer than to retain a current customer. I don’t think we will be buying adds, but think how much it costs to train a person from zero to useful, and how much it is worth to keep the trained people you have.

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Comment by Stelzer III on March 22, 2008 at 10:25pm
I see a change, I'm from the Generation X era, the Generation born after mine (Y I think) seems to live just to get by. Work just enough to get the new I-pod, then work harder or longer again when the new gaming system is coming out. I'm in the middle, I know my Grandfather worked harder and longer most anyone I know but my Father and I have about the same work ethic even though I say I work harder as a firefighter just because he is a cop. I can say this, opening the door to new people is just as hard for the older members of that department to handle as it is for the new firefighter. Let them show you their skills before they feel unwelcome and walk away.
Comment by Tiger Schmittendorf on March 22, 2008 at 5:53pm
Hello Rob -

I enjoyed this post. You offer some good input and ideas. One of which is to target your recruitment efforts towards fufilling a specific need (i.e.-EMT). I encourage fire departments to allow their members to specialize, to be good at a few things instead of poor at many. Unfortunately, this is a tough concept for some fire departments to embrace.

To do so requires the process and completion of a thorough and honest needs assessment.

A lot of departments cry that they need more members - and they do. My question is, what do you need them for? That's what the needs assessment can answer.

Based on the results, the team can then choose the right audience, media, and message to attract people to that specific job.

Furthermore, many fire departments look at their recruitment and retention challenges as unsurmountable. To them I say, take a look at the first commandment in my Top 10 Commandments for Recruitment and Retention - and do the math.

The real caveat to the whole discussion is that there are fewer "natural born" first responders coming to our doors. While it's true that they are seemingly harder to find, we just need to be more creative. It's just a matter of how committed we are to the solution - or the inevitable alternatives.

I would be interested to see the feedback this post received in your state and rural firefighters groups.

Stay safe. Train often.

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