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 Volunteer Firefighting Recruitment and Retention

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Date last updated: Thursday, January 4, 16:30 PST

Welcoming New Members...

A recent thread on the message board at asked about “New Hire Welcome Packages” ( ) While the member asking the question was looking specifically for electronic documents, he does touch on a great topic for departments to look at.

Most departments consider finding new members a challenge, when the real challenge is in turning these new members into productive, lifelong members. Getting potential members through the door is hard enough that we need to make sure every one that comes through the door is shown how much their time and effort is appreciated and made to feel like one of 'the gang'.

One of the things I challenge each department to do is to track the amount of new members brought in over the past five years and compare that to the number of members still active six months, one year and five years later. The percentage of members that are still around even one year later is surprisingly low in many departments. This may be due to many factors, but the largest is a lack of communication.

The point of the original post on the message board was to develop a framework that facilitates communication and gives your department a way to share and fill out documentation. Specifically, he was looking for examples of tax forms, equipment issue logs, right to know docs, bylaws, sogs, what is expected of you doc, yearly calendar, etc...All of this paperwork is a great place to start but it can be overwhelming.

Here's where you should start. There needs to be a checklist for your new membership packet. The checklist should outline not only the paperwork that needs to be filled out, but all of the introductions that need to be made and everything it takes to make a new member feel at home. The obvious things to include in the new member packet include any type of governance documents such as SOGs, bylaws, etc. The less obvious things are often the more important items.

How about a tour of the fire department? What about a key, bunker gear, the secret passcode to get in, whatever it takes to be a member. How about introducing the member to the officers at a minimum, and ideally to the membership at large? What about a mentor program? What are the expectations, minimums and requirements of membership? Are there items the member can borrow? How does the member participate in the retention program? How do they use the department's hall? All of these 'little' items add up into quite a new members packet. Not only does it add up to quite a packet, this only addresses the first few weeks of what the new member needs and hasn't even addressed firefighting related requirements.

This is why every department should have a strong mentoring program. A mentoring program is a great chance to get your 'grey haired' members involved and put their knowledge to good work. The more senior members of the department may not remember their first day in the department, but they have forgotten more about the department's history then most people will ever know. The key is to have a checklist or the like to make sure the mentor covers everything that MUST be covered in addition to what SHOULD be covered.

Part of the program should set realistic expectations with the new members both of what is expected of them and what they can expect of the department. This is where we have the opportunity to explain that the department is there for its members and becomes a family. This is where we really get the new member on the hook. This is where we make the member feel at home.

We require our members to do fund raisers, respond to calls, attend training, and go out of their way to be a member. Those of us who grew up in a firehouse know all about the brotherhood and the benefits of being a volunteer. We take it for granted. All the forms in the world will not keep volunteers volunteering. The best recruitment and retention program can't match the brotherhood. Unless we show our new members exactly what it means to be a volunteer, we will continue to lose them.

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