By: John M. Buckman III
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org / 812-480-4339
It’s important to remember that volunteer firefighters aren’t full-time employees. Today’s volunteer expects you to be respectful and accommodating to their schedule. This is different than in the past. Accommodating is not better or worse just different. To be accommodating means leaders will be flexible and adaptable. Previously, we expected volunteers to be “all in” or not. Be up front about communicating the organizational needs. Today’s long term volunteer will keep their personal priorities in order…faith-family-work-friends-fire department.
Evolutions in demographics, technology, and workplace structures are changing volunteers availability. These shifts are challenging leadership to consider new strategies. Being a volunteer firefighter is not a traditional “volunteer opportunity.” Volunteer firefighters have a tremendous education and training commitment, they are expected to get out of bed from a sound sleep, dress quickly and go the fire station, get on a piece of fire apparatus and respond quickly to someone’s emergency and take care of the public.
The challenge for volunteer staffed fire departments today is to break the traditional model and seek out new ideas and try them. We must adapt our different expectations and needs. Many people today are not really looking for long-term volunteer opportunities. To secure someone for more than 3 years the organization will have competent and qualified leadership that creates a friendly atmosphere, realistic policies and procedures that are enforced fairly, firmly and in a friendly method.
Setting realistic expectations and communicate to the volunteer. Make sure the volunteer fully understands the expectations. A head nod during the communication is not a good indicator they actually understand the expectations you have laid out with them.
Recruiting volunteers means asking people to work in your organization without pay, minimal benefits and with a tremendous responsibility to train and prepare for a variety of emergency events.
Recruitment, is a sales job. Volunteer recruiting offers no guarantee that someone will stick as a volunteer just because they sign up. The reality is that no matter how hard you work at the sales job some people will find out rather quickly being a volunteer firefighter is not something they want to do. The sales job has to accurately point out the advantages of volunteering with your organization, so that people will not only be eager when they begin, but will stay enthusiastic and continue to volunteer for a long time.
You should recruit volunteers formally ask the candidate fill out application forms, authorization to conduct a criminal background check and a list of tangible and intangible benefits.
You may be asking for potential volunteers to complete specific tasks at a specific time such as administrative functions or in a more general role as a firefighter or emergency medical responder.
Although volunteers for the most part work without pay, they do it to receive something – no one does things for no reason. Some reasons that people might be willing to volunteer include:
They are seeking career opportunities.
Someone asked them. Many people respond when someone tells them they’re needed.
They have personal experience from an encounter with the fire department during an emergency event and want to be a part of and/or contribute.
They seek external recognition and an internal good feeling as a result of becoming a firefighter.
They want to pay back their community for a variety of reasons.
Successful people who want to help out.
They have untapped skills that they believe they can use by becoming a volunteer firefighter.
They believe they will enjoy the work of being a firefighter.
They are looking to have some fun.
They enjoy the social activities associated with being a volunteer firefighter.
They believe they will add value to the organization.
They are looking to expand their contacts with other volunteers, participants, community members and leaders.
* It will make them feel needed and useful.
When should you recruit volunteers?
All the time. Never miss an opportunity to recruit volunteers.
Don’t wait for a specific time period. When a person expresses an interest in joining the fire department you need to begin the on boarding process immediately. Any delay may result in the potential volunteer to find something else to do with their time and energy.
Can you conduct an annual “volunteer recruiting drive?” Absolutely this is a good idea. Focus on a 30 day period as one example where you are posting posters, flyers, brochures, public presentations, etc.
Think about potential volunteers as consumers. There are a lot of ways motivated individuals can give their time and talents to the fire department. Build the box in such a way that the walls are moveable and interchangeable that allows volunteers some flexibility in the services they can offer.
Convincing potential volunteers to become active volunteers.
Once you’ve made contact with potential volunteers, and they’ve shown interest, you have to “complete the sale” by convincing them that volunteering will be a good decision for them.
Invite potential volunteers to meet with the membership and top leadership to get a “feel” for the department.
Invite volunteers to observe training activities.
Be flexible in scheduling. Volunteers are not the same. Volunteers have different personal and professional lives that provide unique challenges in scheduling especially training.
Show that you take volunteers seriously by creating an expectations agreement and ask them to sign it. This expectations agreement should also clearly state the department provided support.
Conduct an annual awards dinner.
Include potential volunteers in social activities.
Show potential volunteers both intangible and tangible benefits.