When Rittman (OH) Fire & Rescue received a FEMA SAFER grant for volunteer firefighter recruitment and retention in 2019, they combined their fire and EMS departments into one department and found a recruitment program that could work for both types of applicants in a single effort.
Once the department chose First Arriving to create and deliver a recruitment and retention marketing plan, Sweigert said, there was a significant change in everything regarding recruitment. “I say the fire service is sort of like football,” he said. “We have defensive fires and offensive fires. There are offensive actions that are aggressively trying to fight the fire. With defense, you are trying to protect other structures. So we went from defense, taking whatever application was given to us, to offense, where a marketing plan was created and driving the recruitment.”
From the marketing and recruitment efforts, Rittman created panel interview days. Since 2019 the department has hired 23 new people. The new recruitment plan even led to further opportunities for some of Rittman’s personnel. “Some people say it has gotten them full-time opportunities. People we recruited based on First Arriving’s marketing, and now they have been hired full-time in career departments,” Sweigert said.
First Arriving’s plan for Rittman involved several action points such as a new website, in-house training and social media campaigns. “They were the logical choice,” Sweigert said. “First Arriving focused on our family atmosphere at the start. They created member spotlights and featured a new one every week. We saw an increase in traffic on Facebook stats and learned more about who this information appeals to.”
People would look at their Facebook posts and say, “Hey, I know her, I know him, I can do what they are doing,” Sweigert said. It wasn’t necessarily about that member, but it was about who they appeal to in the community who would want to be part of their team.
Rittman Fire & Rescue’s relationship with First Arriving also helped them work through the difficulties of COVID-19 and stay in touch with potential applicants and those in the process of becoming members. Sweigert credits the guidance from Rittman’s First Arriving strategists for this success during a challenging time.
“Tiger Schmittendorf (Vice President, Recruitment & Retention Services) is a relatable guy who has many ideas because of his experience. He told me the first recruitment effort he created for his home volunteer fire department in New York doubled his department’s membership in four months, but over time they lost them all because they didn’t have that proper onboarding. That stuck with me,” Sweigert said. “Tiger and Walter Campbell (Recruitment & Retention Strategist) have a wealth of knowledge and are insightful. Walter gives insights on the recruitment side that sometimes I don’t think about. That is really what you want. You want a partner who is going to give ideas and plans you are not thinking of.”