Within the past 30 years, volunteer firefighter participation has decreased 13 percent; however, the number of calls has tripled over the last 25 years (Caspi, 2014). Due to the continuous population and community growth in the United States, improving retention and recruitment of volunteers is a vital task among fire departments in order to combat these alarming statistics.
Fire departments have an abundance of choices when implementing retention and recruitment programs. For example, departments can recruit new members by organizing open houses and utilizing social media to express their need for volunteers. Popular retention methods include offering volunteers a retirement fund or other benefits, quality training programs and purchasing new equipment when needed. Regardless of which methods are implemented, the success of retention and recruitment efforts is highly dependent on the strength of leadership within the department (Volunteer Fire Fighter Recruitment and Retention, 2014).
Strong leadership is an essential characteristic of a volunteer fire department due to the dangerous and demanding nature of the emergency services industry. In terms of recruitment, prospects are often amateurs when it comes to responding to emergency situations so proper training and mentoring are essential for new volunteers. When leadership is apparent, prospects are instilled with confidence that they will receive adequate training in order to safely and effectively execute their duties as well as contribute to the overall goals and vision of the department if they decide to join. Training and development opportunities are also key to retaining volunteers because they sharpen skills and empower volunteers to grow as well as lead others. In addition, solid leadership helps foster camaraderie and passion to serve which is important to prospective volunteers and to those who have been active members for many years. When camaraderie exists, conflict lessens because communication is more open and teamwork is reinforced. Building and maintaining a close-knit and communicative department should be a primary focus for leaders since volunteers sacrifice personal time in order to help their communities (U.S. Fire Administration, 2007).
Leadership is of utmost importance. Without it, vision gets lost, goals become unreachable, conflict arises and communication diminishes causing a decrease in participation. In a state of emergency, communities rely on volunteer firefighters to come to the rescue. The responsibility not only lies on members of the community to assume roles as volunteers, but also on departments to instill a strong leadership team that drives the success of recruitment and retention programs.
- U.S. Fire Administration. (2007). Retention and Recruitment for the Volunteer Emergency Services; Challenges and Solutions. (2nd Edition). Retrieved here.
- Volunteer Firefighter Recruitment and Retention, (2014, May 18) Retrieved here.
- Caspi, H. (2014, April 3). National Volunteer Week 2014: Incentive Update. Retrieved here.
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