ATTRACTING RECRUITS: A MATTER OF IMAGE
Recruiting and retaining quality firefighters are the most important issues facing volunteer and on-call fire departments. Without sufficient personnel, all other concerns are secondary. Departments, consequently, must develop plans for recruiting and retaining personnel. Some pointers on recruitment and retention follow.
If you want to continue to provide service to your community, you must publicize and promote your organization Would-be firefighters in your community should know that you need volunteers and that your department is competent and professional. Newer residents often are not aware of the type and caliber of their fire department. Residents coming from a larger city, for example, may assume that the department in their new community is an all-career department. Target marketing for potential recruits should be directed to populations, particularly women and minorities, that typically do not consider working as part-time firefighters.
Promoting the department also helps to keep existing members. Members who perceive their department as professional, competent, and a valuable contributor to the community are proud to be a part of it.
Various marketing methods should be used: the electronic and print media, newsletters, open houses, public fire education programs, personal contact, and word of mouth.
Image is closely related to marketing. The image projected to the community directly affects the quality of recruits the department attracts. The key is to present an image of professionalism, competence, and dedication-one that will attract recruits, enhance the department, and reflect existing members. Volunteer and oncall firefighters no longer fit the previously widely held stereotype of reckless and out-of-control individuals. A department’s image develops over time and is a composite of the department’s activities. Every job, every contact with the public, and every reference to the department forges the public’s impression of the department. Your department could be judged on the basis of a single contact. As the saying goes: A first impression is a lasting impression.
Competence is the key to projecting and maintaining a positive image. If the fireground is mismanaged, buildings are burning down, and unnecessary injuries are frequent, the department suffers. Skills taught and reinforced through training and drills build efficiency and promote pride in the job. Department members who work to earn a certificate in a specialized area, for example, want to remain in the department to use the newly acquired skills.
The term “politics” generally has a negative connotation, and most people wish to stay clear of all politics. Unfortunately, this is impossible: politics surround the firefighter. They arc within the fire department and outside in the local, county, state, and federal governmental structures. Politics within the department must be controlled in a positive manner, and fire departments must become involved in the local political arena and win the support of elected officials for many reasons, among them the funding needed to continue giving quality service to the community. Recruitment and retention will suffer if a disproportionate amount of your department’s time is spent arguing for basic needs. Don’t, however, confuse this type of involvement w ith partisan politics. I am not proposing that you paint donkeys and elephants on the sides of your trucks. Just remember that a department in constant internal or external turmoil discourages recruits and demoralizes members.
Changes in the makeup of the family and the roles of its members have affected volunteer and on-call departments. Being a firefighter strains family and personal life. Fire departments must strive to involve family members in as many activities as possible. The effect on the family must be considered, for example, when developing training programs and scheduling other activities. Reducing the strain on members and their families benefits the firefighter and the department.
Successfully recruiting and retaining volunteer and on-call firefighters, therefore, depends in part on developing a department that is competent, held in esteem by the community, free of internal and external controversy, and considerate of its members—and then making sure that the public knows that its fire department is a highly professional organization that welcomes recruits w ho w ill help sustain its positive image.