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 Volunteer Firefighting Recruitment and Retention

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Date last updated: Thursday, January 4, 16:33 PST

Nice Job

Nice Job. Good Work. Well Done. It is amazing how much two words can say, and it is even more remarkable how rarely any of these phrases are used. Volunteer officers and members are much more likely to use two word phrases that you wouldn't use in front of your parents then say 'nice job'.

We spend thousands of dollars on recruitment plans, more on training, and constantly complain about the decreasing numbers of volunteers. A simple 'nice job' goes a long way and is something we often forget. I know we are a bunch of rough and tough firefighters, but we seem to forget the manners that our parents taught us.

Every department has the members that go above and beyond in their duties. We also have members who give every minute they have and barely meet the minimum requirements. Both of these types of members need to be recognized. When a member makes an attempt, they need to be thanked and not ridiculed or compared against other members.

I know there are critics out there who say that we just do our duty and that should be thanks enough. There are also those who say that there are minimums in their department and just meeting the minimums isn't enough. To them I say: That is why we have a decrease in volunteers.

How about when a member does a great job at a scene? Maybe they didn't save a life, but the took command, lead their team, and got their job done... A simple "Nice Job" will encourage this member to do it again and again. They may have only been doing their duty, but they did it well. If that member messed up, I am sure you wouldn't hesitate to let them know, now it is just a matter of giving positive reinforcement also.

When departments enforce minimums, as they should, the first response is usually "It says volunteer on the front of the building, doesn't it?"... Yes it does, but we have to do what we do safely and within regulatory boundaries. We need to keep in mind that our members are volunteers and appreciate the time that members put into the department. Time they could be spending with their families and loved ones. Time they could be working. A simple "Thank You" for coming will go a long way.

This column may sound like it is aimed at the management of a department but it is even more important for the rank and file to take it to heart. Some of the proverbial 'ball busting' that goes on in the back room may go too far. Not only that, but when a fellow firefighter says nice job to one of his brethren or even one of his officers, it will stick with them.

The best example of this is the member that comes back after a leave of absence. The first thing that member usually hears is "Hey Joe! Where the *@%$ have you been?" Not "Welcome Back" or "Thanks for coming back"... Its "Why haven't you been here?" Then we wonder why we loose members. (Stay tuned for an upcoming column on bringing members back from the 'dead' in January.)

The reason why this column topic came up is because the year 2004 is coming to an end. This time of year most departments compile some statistics for their reports and incentive plans. My question is, why don't you use these statistics to recognize members?

How about holding an award ceremony at your holiday party? It does not have to be anything fancy and could be as simple as a certificate stating thanks. You can even have fun with it. Besides the basic awards such as best rookie, years of service, top % of calls available, top number of calls attended, etc, you can make up some others. How about most money raised, or best fall, or most blue lights on their POV... A little humor doesn't hurt, but don't distract the group from the purpose of the ceremony.

If your department has the available funds, how about putting up a plaque with a list of award winners for each year? A nice plaque will often drive members. It is a relatively low cost retention tool. Not only that, but it shows new members coming in that you appreciate the work done by your members.

While you're at it, send your list of award winners to the local paper. You might even want to invite them to the ceremony. You will be surprised to find out that they would be more then happy to print it. Seeing your name in print is a great way to reward your members.

Whatever you do, the key is positive feedback. It can be a simple 'nice job' or an elaborate award ceremony. No matter what you do, you will see the rewards immediately.

As a side note, I want to say thank you to all of you who have contributed to It does not matter if you submitted items in your profile ( ), signed up as a sponsor member (, signed up for Cruisin for Solutions ( ) or were active on our message board ( ) any help is appreciated.

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