Collingdale is a small borough in Delaware County, Pennsylvania undergoing significant changes. Among those changes is the recruitment of volunteer firefighters from the changing face of community residents.
The Collingdale Fire Company was created in 2020 after the merger of Collingdale Volunteer Fire Company No.1 and Collingdale Fire Company No.2. Both companies have been providing fire protection services to the communities of Collingdale and Aldan since 1906 and 1917, respectively. The department is a community-based volunteer organization focused on protecting and preserving life and property. Collingdale volunteers protect Collingdale and Aldan boroughs, conduct in-depth training sessions, and organize fundraisers to help reduce the cost of delivering emergency services and increase the benefits they can offer our volunteers.
The department’s earlier recruitment and marketing efforts relied on a basic, one-size-fits-all website managed by a web company with no experience in dealing with public safety customers. “The old site was created through a web company and was very basic, and when you spoke to them you could tell that you were just another customer to them,” said Collingdale Firefighter and Grant Administrator John Cleary.
Collingdale received a US DHS SAFER grant to focus on recruitment, which allowed them to take the cohesion created by the two companies merging to the next level. “We saw that the face of our community was changing, and the department was not reflecting that, and we needed to reach out to minorities about joining our department,” said Cleary. The time was right to bring in a partner that could help them grow and succeed.
First Arriving was chosen to lead the department through a realistic review of its current recruitment and marketing efforts and new strategies. “Our first meeting with First Arriving was fantastic. They gave us advice that was direct and honest,” said Cleary. First Arriving’s Recruitment & Retention Services service is focused on helping Fire and EMS departments, industry associations, and non-profits expand their footprint by leveraging the latest best practices, strategies, and technology platforms.
“First Arriving was very easy to work with and used fire service terminology we understood which was completely different from the website service we had before,” said Cleary. “Tiger [Schmittendorf], VP of Recruitment & Retention, advised us on the recruiting timeline, the onboarding and application process, and how to get us started.”
First Arriving’s strategy for Collingdale included a comprehensive strategic recruitment plan built around a new “No One Better” marketing campaign that calls citizens to action with: “No one better to serve. No better time than now.” The launch of the new website, online and offline campaigns and materials, and professional video production are all designed to drive recruitment leads. The new website serves as their online clearinghouse for everything they want their community to know about them. It’s focused on recruitment, presenting the volunteering opportunities and membership types they offer, as well as benefits, incentives, and information on how to get started
“The setup was extremely easy, allowing me to do things myself. But if I am in a hurry, I can easily send a ticket and First Arriving takes care of it,” said Cleary.
To get useful content quickly, First Arriving first created a promotional video using clips from YouTube videos fire company members had compiled. First Arriving then brought in their professional video team to spend a weekend with Collingdale’s volunteers, showcasing their great people and the great work they do. “It was seamless, the best way I can describe working with First Arriving.”
“The site went live smoothly. Then COVID hit our recruitment efforts right at the start.” Despite that, Collingdale received 12 applications by May of 2021, and between May and August, they had 40 people interested in volunteering and going through the process.
Since the launch of its new website, through April 2022, the Collingdale Fire Company has seen exponential growth in department recognition, website, and social media traffic. Applicant interest increased by over 400%.
- Total Recruitment Leads: 62
- Total Website Sessions: 21,578
- Total Number of Website Users: 18,425
- New Facebook Page Likes: 893
- New Instagram Followers: 64
- Total Facebook Page Visits: 16,192
- Total Instagram Profile Visits: 4,054
The recruitment campaign also involved a personal touch with emails and phone calls. First Arriving reinforced the need for frequent and timely follow-up and follow-through. Staying in touch with interested people and applicants as they are going through the process helped Collingdale see a more than triple increase in interest and a dozen people becoming part of the department and connected to their community, even during the pandemic.
The department provides fire and EMS protection 24/7/365 so recruitment of Contributing Members, members who can assist in areas other than emergency response, was equally important to the department and the community, especially during a time of change. The First Arriving team was able to lend their personal and professional experience using non-emergency volunteers to aid Collingdale in refining and growing its program.
Cleary stated that the difference between a general marketing firm and a professional service for first responders, made up of first responders is what made the biggest difference in their success, “First Arriving is very professional. There is a big difference between what we had and what we have now. They have been an invaluable resource and accommodating for everything we need.” Cleary noted that the ability to have deep conversations, not just about volunteer recruitment and retention but about their internal culture and operations, is a game-changer for Collingdale 33.