Volunteer fire department recruitment and retention are a battle on two fronts for fire and EMS departments. The question of which one to focus on, recruitment or retention, is a popular topic with many answers.
There is a beating drum that hammers out news stories and messages about how harmful the effects of firefighting and EMS can be. Among them is the topic of first responder burnout. The demands and pressures of firefighting and EMS, along with those of work, family and life, make it challenging to keep current firefighters and medics from leaving the department.
Tiger Schmittendorf, First Arriving’s Vice President of Recruitment and Retention Services, says that retention begins the day your new firefighter or EMT joins the department. Every step a current member takes to help a new member with training, benefits and more will deepen that new member’s involvement and sense of connectedness. Connectedness, or having a personal connection to something, is a large part of why new firefighters and medics join in the first place. Without that connectedness, the new member is drifting and left not feeling engaged.
“The key to retention is recruiting your existing members over and over again, every day. It’s important to remind them why they joined, and that they and their contributions mean something to the organization, the people they serve, and serve with,” says Schmittendorf.
Last year my wife and I started attending a different church. This new church was appealing and very large, so we believed we might not have the same connections as we did in our previous church. This new church was organized and skilled in social media, communication, and more. They appeared to be efficient. Part of this large church’s outreach to its members was through community groups since members came from many different neighborhoods. These groups would plug you into church life, help you know others, and create a connectedness. My wife and I put our names down and reached out to three groups that we might be able to join. Fast forward a year, and I received an email from the organizer of the community groups. She asked how we were doing, if we fit in with a group and if there was anything we needed.
I told the organizer that we had not attended her church for almost a year. I politely explained how we did not receive any replies from the groups we looked at and that we had returned to our home church. I added that despite encouragement to get plugged into a community group, emails, phone calls, and in-person meetings were dropped.
Part of why people join organizations is to have that connectedness with other like-minded people. Firefighters like spending time with other firefighters. EMTs and medics like spending time with each other. Without those personal connections, your new members are left to drift along. Who wants to be part of an organization where it is okay to be a wallflower?
First Arriving’s Recruitment and Retention Strategist Walter Campbell says retention deserves your attention. Part of preventing burnout is to check on members and see how they are managing all their life’s responsibilities, not just firehouse life. In short, be connected with them. The most informal but personal meetings with another member have benefits in retention. Checking in on each other says you are valued. You might not feel or see it, but you and everything you do are valued. It also helps share burdens, solves problems, and practices empathy and understanding.
No one joins a fire or EMS department saying, “I can’t wait to get my training over and get my gear and have everyone just leave me alone.” Everything about us, from training to operations, says that we are vitally dependent upon each other. Retention practices focused on connectedness ensure that each member knows he or she is valued, needed, and wanted – whether they’ve been around for 20 days or 20 years or more.
By Bill Carey, Fire and EMS Content Marketing Manager
Looking for ideas on how to improve your volunteer Fire/EMS recruitment and retention or to conduct a member retention or family satisfaction survey and what to ask? Email us at [email protected] and we’ll send you a sample questionnaire you can tailor to your organization.