Volunteer Firefighter / EMS Recruitment During Times of Adversity Part 2 – Five Ways to Remain Relevant in Recruiting During Disasters

Vice President of Strategic Services

As a part of social distancing requirements brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, many volunteer fire departments and emergency squads have been forced to roll up their welcome mats, roll down their bay doors and restrict access to their facilities.

That’s very sad but being isolated is not the same as becoming insular. As shared in Part 1 of this series, “Keep Recruiting and Keep the Message Positive”, the good news is that our online presence doesn’t need to mimic our current physical state.

This spring break in social events offers the perfect opportunity to clean the garage, take out the garbage, and finish all of those unfinished projects at home – and in your recruitment and retention plan.


Here are five ways you can remain relevant in your volunteer recruitment efforts even while you can’t be with your prospective volunteers in person:


Other than virus related calls, some fire and emergency medical services organizations may actually be experiencing a drop in call volume. With fewer people on the roads, there may be less vehicle collisions to respond to. With shelter-in-place orders, people may be less likely to go to a hospital for less-serious illnesses or minor injuries. With less businesses in operation, there may be less nuisance fire alarm activations. That also means that the public is seeing and hearing (emergency lights sirens) less of their volunteer fire department or rescue squad on their street.

Compensate for the lack of in-person interaction opportunities by seeking ways to reinforce that you’re still there, ready to respond when you need them most. Help bring calm to chaos by sharing clear, concise facts about the pandemic but don’t let them let their guard down about your other life safety messages either. Pandemic stay-at-home orders mean more people staying and cooking at home, which can lead to more kitchen fires or close calls around the stove or grille.

Gently remind them that you’re there for them now and you’ll still be there for them after all this craziness is over. Do so without making it be about you, remember, this is what we signed up for.


Establish attainable goals and benchmarks for measuring success, considering how many new volunteers you’re capable of supporting logistically, financially, operationally, culturally and emotionally. Focus on quality–not just quantity.


Not now, but under normal circumstances, how long does your recruitment intake and onboarding process take and why? Map out each step and task that takes a prospect from the moment of inquiry to the moment of raising their right hand and committing to serving. Then identify and work to clear any obstacles that negatively slow the time-to-serving or gaps where you’re losing people in the process.


With our newfound free time, we have an opportunity to retool our community communications and recruitment strategies and reinvent the way we connect with potential volunteers. Be honest and realistic about the timing and process related to their eventual onboarding.

Don’t be afraid to try something different, something new, find the fun in volunteering, and take a lighter approach to an otherwise serious business.

Can’t have an open house? Host a virtual volunteer information session using readily available (and often free) streaming platforms to connect with potential candidates. Take them on a virtual tour of your firehouse or EMS facility and maybe even on a video ride-along via Facebook Live or another platform!


As if the federal government isn’t busy enough with what’s going on around the country, the wheels of US DHS and FEMA are still spinning up to announce the SAFER grant application period very shortly. This is a great time to get a jump on your narrative and background data while you clarify and prioritize where you want to go with your grant-funded recruitment efforts. Don’t be afraid to dream big but be realistic too. Securing a large grant can be a “be careful what you wish for” moment when it comes to implementing, executing and managing government funded recruitment efforts, but that shouldn’t discourage you from applying.

  • Having a RRC-Recruitment & Retention Coordinator and/or a grant program administrator in place can enhance both your plan and your chances for a grant award.
  • Balance your desire to improve your retention efforts with the inherent need to feed the front of the pipeline and recruit more people to offer your benefits and incentives to. All that retention money does you little good if you don’t have the new recruits to retain.
  • Include sufficient budget to secure offline materials and hard goods that will be sustainable long after the end of the grant performance period.
  • Don’t underestimate the value of outsourcing your recruitment strategy and marketing. Hiring the right partner who knows your business alleviates the impact of overburdening a likely already-overburdened volunteer with figuring out the right way of going to market, something that they may have neither the time, talent nor interest for doing.

Plan now to be successful in all aspects of grant management.In Part 3 of 3: Five MORE Ways to Remain Relevant in Recruiting During Disasters”, we’ll dive into the tactics of refreshing your recruitment message, restocking your stock photography portfolio, revamping your website, building a following and promoting your people.

Read Part 1: “Volunteer Recruitment During Times of Adversity”

Learn more about First Arriving’s Recruitment & Retention services here.