I'm going to try to give some of my insight why departments fail to get new recruits and fail to retain them.
We see the news reports all over the country. "Local fire departments short on members." We hear departments say we just can't seem to get the young people in are area interested in the fire department.
The question is ARE YOU REALLY TRYING? DO YOU REALLY WANT NEW MEMBERS? Next you will try to tell me you are IN A SMALL COMMUNITY.
I live in the town of DeRuyter NY. Between the Village and Town the population is under 3000. We have a school with 400 students. Huge right. Been on the Fire Department going on 13 years also have been on the board of the Madison County Volunteer Firemen's Association which i'm the current President of for the past 10 years. I have been around a little while. I spend a lot of time talking to other FF's and Chief officers of departments all across the state. I have also seen my own department go from not growing to growing steadily and members putting in years of service.
Lets look at the first question. Are you trying? I have seen signs outside of departments,ads in the newspapers. Here in New York every April FASNY asks every department to open there doors for a weekend for Recruit New York. We have bill boards with Is there a fire in you question on it and contact info. All these things are great and do work. Are we really trying? Even being Volunteers are we being professional when out in public? Whether on a call or just out personally. The days of the firemen can do no wrong are gone. We are being held to a much higher standard then ever before. People are saying we are paying for their equipment and services with our taxes. Why are they not more like the guys back in the city where i moved from. Does the general public see you out practicing? Do you keep your equipment clean and in good working order? Or do they see you out in the bars; dirty equipment;not working equipment? Not doing any thing in your communities? Why not? Your community is supporting you with tax dollars. Show them you appreciate them. Open your doors let them in your stations. Answer their questions. Get them involved with stuff you are doing. Keep your equipment clean and in working order. Be professional when on a call or out in public. These are all signs you are trying.
Know lets look at question two. Do you really want new members? When you get a new recruit do you make them feel like they belong? Or do you all stay in your little clicks and let them try to figure out were they belong? When i joined i had this problem. I grow up in South Otselic and moved here. I joined the department as a outsider pretty much. I knew some on the department but not many. If the Chief was not my cousin I would have most likely would have quit within the first month or so. I did my time and proved myself and earned their respect. I will tell you what I did.
This is what I did to prevent this from happening to the next person. I talked to the Chiefs and line officers and made this argument. If you want new members and want them to stay you need to do things different then you are now. So after many talks and arguments this is what we did. When we get a new recruit we assign 2 firefighters and a line officer to them as a mentor. This gives them someone to show them around and answer questions. This also gives them a feeling of belonging and we are thankful they have joined us. This has been a very successful program. Our new recruits will go and tell their friends they were received with open arms and tell them to join.
So if you say you want new members then when they join make them feel like they belong. Don't stay in your little groups and make your new recruit feel like they are not important. Welcome them and put them to work and let them know you are glad they joined.
Know lets talk about retention. What do you do to keep your members. When you start loosing members because they got mad or treated unfairly you will not be getting new recruits. These members will be bad mouthing you and unless your department has a good reputation I can almost guarantee you will not get new recruits.
Lets look at the top. If you have bad or weak Chiefs or line officers you will most defiantly will have a hard time retaining members. In most cases if you are to trace back a retention problem in any group you will find the leadership is the cause of the problem. Chiefs need to be strong leaders in any department. They need to be just and fair in all their dealings with the crew. They need to make wise and reasonable decision for the department. They also need a strong and reliable set of officers under them. Your line officers need to be just and fair also. They need to take care of individual problems when they arise; not let them go uncontrolled because we are buds. Remember crap rolls down hill. We as firefighters have a responsibility also. We need to make sure we have strong leaders in place. We need to help make sure we are doing everything we can to help things along.
Lets look at my department. We have 33 active members. 24 are interior fire fighters. We will also be voting in 4 new members at next months meeting. The thing's we do to keep our members active and to gain new recruits. Like i said before we have a mentor program. We have a membership committee that meets with each and every applicant. Before a applicant is even voted on they are brought in. We explain everything that is required of them right up front. This weeds out a bunch right then and there. We have a point system for every call-practice-detail you make you get a point. Each point has a value of $1.00. Each year you can spend up to $150.00 in points for tools, clothing or want ever you want as long as it is fire department related. We have a few guys that this is the only reason the make more then their mandated stuff. We keep the fridge loaded with soda and candy bars. We pay for a six hour point reduction defensive driving coarse every 3 years for our members. We practice 3 Mondays a month. We have two open houses a year. We do a bunch of stuff at the school. We get involved with a bunch of community events. We take care of business in house. We do not let things slide. We treat everyone the same. We thank our crew all the time. We make sure all complaints are confidential and people are spoke to like adults and in private. When discipline is needed it is fair and justified.
Will I sit here and tell you we are a perfect department. No i'd be lying. We have our share of problems also. We handle them in house and try not to broadcast them all over. Will I tell you everything we do will work for you. No it may not. Every area and region is different.
What I will say is this. IF YOU JUST SIT AROUND AND SAY WE CAN'T SEEM TO GET NEW RECRUITS AND DO NOTHING THEN YOU MIGHT AS WELL SHUT THE DOORS. IF YOU REALLY WANT NEW RECRUITS AND YOU GET SOME. MAKE THEM FELL LIKE THEY BELONG. THINK OUT SIDE OF WHAT YOU HAVE DONE IN THE PAST. TRY SOMETHING NEW! IF IT DON'T WORK WHAT ARE YOU OUT? SOME TIME. GOOD LUCK!
LT. Sinesi DeRuyter Vol. Fire Department