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Recruit Volunteers to Your Department with Help from ‘Make Me A Firefighter’ Campaign

Posted by: Administrator Account on 11/12/2015
Recruit Volunteers to Your Department with Help from ‘Make Me A Firefighter’ Campaign
By Chief Kevin D. Quinn, Chairman of the National Volunteer Fire Council

If your department is like most volunteer or combination departments in the U.S., you struggle to maintain the staffing needed to provide the adequate level of service to your community. The numbers are clear. The National Fire Protection Association reports that in 1984 there were 897,750 volunteer firefighters, and that in 2013 there were 786, 150. This is a 12 percent decrease. In that same time period, call volume has tripled, largely due to increased medical emergency calls.

Why are we having problems recruiting new members? There are a lot of factors, including increased demands on people’s time, increased training requirements, and geographical shifts as people move away from smaller communities for job opportunities.

But there is another challenge as well – lack of awareness among the public about the need for volunteer firefighters and EMTs. The National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) conducted a national survey last year that found that 41% of respondents didn’t know if their local department utilized volunteers. Perhaps even more telling was that 79% of respondents did not know their department was seeking volunteers. It is hard to expect people to step up and serve if they don’t even know the opportunity is available.

The survey did uncover some promising news. It found that 29% of the U.S. population is either “definitely interested” or “might be interested” in volunteering as a responder in the fire and emergency service. Among under-represented audience, the numbers were even higher. 44 percent of Millennials (those aged 18-35) expressed at least some interest in volunteering, which is encouraging for an industry whose population is aging and needs new blood to secure its future. In addition, 36 percent of minorities expressed interest in volunteering, shedding light on what has to date been a largely untapped recruiting market.

What do we do to bridge this gap in awareness to get new members in the door, diversity in our ranks, and attract the next generation of responders? It is a challenge for many departments to focus on recruitment when they are already short-staffed and under-funded. That is why the NVFC has launched a new volunteer recruitment campaign to help.

Funded by a federal SAFER grant, the Make Me A Firefighter campaign aims to connect departments with potential volunteers and provide personnel with the resources and training to successfully recruit new members. This is the first national campaign of its kind and features messaging and materials that have been tested to resonate with target audiences. And best of all, it is completely free.

Here are the steps you can follow in order to take full advantage of this new recruitment campaign.

1. Post your volunteer opportunities at http://portal.nvfc.org.
The campaign features a searchable database of volunteer opportunities at local departments so potential recruits can connect. But they can’t find your department if you aren’t listed. Register at http://portal.nvfc.org and post your volunteer opportunities today. This enables interested members of the public to find you from a variety of volunteer opportunity search databases, including www.MakeMeAFirefighter.org and www.AllForGood.org. In addition, you can track the progress of potential recruits who connect with your department through the database.

2. Make sure your department is ready for new recruits.
As you bring potential members to your department, make sure your current members are ready to welcome them. No one wants to join an organization where they feel like an outsider or are disrespected or ignored. Current members need to remember that they were all new to the department at one time as well, and should be there to provide information, assistance, and support to potential volunteers and new recruits. Train your members in diversity and inclusion, and when younger members have ideas or input, let their voices be heard. The NVFC will be releasing a series of online courses to help departments reach new audiences, embrace new members, and retain those who join. These will be available soon at http://portal.nvfc.org.

3. Let your community know you need volunteers.
While the NVFC is doing national outreach to let the public know about the need for volunteer firefighters and EMTs, the best way to inform your specific community that you need volunteers is if you tell them. The NVFC has developed a series of ready-to-use materials you can customize for your local audience. These include ads, emails, flyers, social media messaging, tools for working with the media, and more. Access these resources at http://portal.nvfc.org.

4. Utilize personal invitations and hold sampling events.
NVFC research has shown that personal invitations and sampling events are key draws for people when making the decision to join their local fire department. Personal invitations mean that someone has specifically invited them to join, and sampling events are activities that allow the potential recruit to get a glimpse of what a volunteer firefighter or EMT does. A sampling event may be a ride along, open house, or booth or recruitment station at a local community fair. The NVFC has a list of ideas and tips for holding a sampling event as well as template invitations to help you invite community members to join your department. Find these at http://portal.nvfc.org.

5. Promote the campaign.
The public web site at www.MakeMeAFirefighter.org contains information to help potential volunteers learn what it means and what it takes to be a volunteer in the fire and emergency services. It also contains a search engine to help these individuals connect with your department. Let your community know about this web site. If you have contacts in other departments, you can also share the campaign with them and let them know the resources that are available to help them recruit new members. Find tools to promote the campaign at http://portal.nvfc.org.

Recruiting takes effort, but the resources available through the Make Me A Firefighter campaign helps reduce the burden and simplifies the process. The bottom line is that we need more boots on the ground firefighters and EMTs, and the only way to get them in is to reach interested individuals. Use the Make Me A Firefighter campaign to reinvigorate your recruitment efforts, expand your target audiences, and access materials and resources to make your local campaign a success.

Get started today at http://portal.nvfc.org. 
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