BY MIKE PIPER
Are you an exhausted volunteer chief or assistant chief? Why are you exhausting yourself with the relentless influx of administrative demands when there are skilled people in your community who can complete them for you? That’s right, regardless of your community’s size, hundreds of skilled civilians are eager, capable, and willing to assist you in a wide range of administrative tasks; your only challenge is to find them.
A typical volunteer chief or assistant chief spends his time engaged in operational activities such as incident responses, department meetings, training, public education, citizen inquiries, and the like. In trying to respond to the overwhelming demand for his time and expertise, the chief neglects the real focus of his position. The chief with little or no paid administrative staff often leaves coworkers isolated and frustrated by his inaccessibility. Often, the important but less urgent demands of the department and community go unmet.
Fortunately, the very community that places those relentless demands on the chief’s time is quite capable of helping meet those same demands. Believe it or not, countless civilians with a wide variety of nonoperational skills are willing and able to serve your organization and your community. Stop reacting to the relentless demands and start, if only for a single day, developing an administrative volunteer program to serve your organization and your community.
The typical volunteer chief often contemplates how many firefighters or EMTs his organization lacks. The paradox of providing emergency services, though, is that we must invest most of our time and energy in preventing emergencies and preparing the organization and community to respond when they arise. Many of the tasks that prepare a community for an emergency can be accomplished by people who may not possess the desire, skills, or ability to respond to an emergency.
The local accountant, small business owner, contractor, housewife, or retired salesperson often possess many of the skills and abilities your organization may lack, in addition to their desiring an escape from possibly mundane lives. Your challenge is to locate and empower them.
HOW CIVILIANS CAN HELP
Some nonoperational activities that civilians can complete follow.
- Administrative support. Answering incoming telephone calls, covering the reception desk, taking messages, filing, accounting, and recording meeting minutes are essential to your organization’s success. Many people possess these skills and are willing to volunteer their expertise to benefit your organization.
- Fundraising and grant writing assistance. Local professionals such as newspaper writers and small business owners can assist your organization in raising funds and writing grants. They may embrace the opportunity to use their skills to benefit the local fire department.
- Life safety education. Civilians can staff life safety presentations and events, even if they have no experience as an emergency responder. How many times have your operations division personnel had to “stop, drop, and roll?” Those who have no desire to respond to motor vehicle collisions may nonetheless be willing to complete child-restraint system inspections.
- Equipment maintenance. A local mechanic may be willing to devote a few hours each weekend to doing preventive maintenance or light repairs on your vehicle fleet. Retirees may also enjoy devoting time to cleaning the apparatus and the local fire station.
- Wildfire mitigation. Residents whose homes are in forested areas have a vested interest in developing and promoting wildfire mitigation programs. They may be motivated to summon community support through meetings and to plan fuel reduction projects.
- Marketing. Every community has professionals who market products and services. These professionals can be a tremendous asset in helping the fire department to produce newsletters and maintain a Web site. The person contributing his expertise to build or maintain a Web site need not even be a member of your community.
The key to your administrative volunteer program’s success is finding a single ambitious civilian. Invest what little time you have to recruit a single civilian who can influence additional people to support your organization’s administration. Recruiting this single civilian can liberate even the busiest chief from some of the relentless demands for time and energy. Empower and charge your civilian recruit with the responsibility of securing additional administrative volunteers, and your program will thrive. Select challenges facing your organization, and empower your administrative volunteers to resolve them. Doing so will enable you to dedicate your time and energy elsewhere.
Attracting administrative volunteers can be as simple as asking whoever makes a favorable impression on you if that person has an interest. Keep your organization’s administrative needs foremost in mind during your daily interactions, and ask those who may be qualified to submit an application. Vested and retired members of your organization may also want to help out.
Other effective methods for attracting interested administrative volunteers include placing announcements in local newsletters, in newspapers, and on your department’s Web site as well as distributing flyers at community events.
There is no need to start from scratch in creating an administrative volunteer program. Many thriving organizations already use such volunteer assistance. Visit the Fire Corps Web site for information on developing an administrative volunteer program, www.firecorps.org.
MIKE PIPER is the deputy chief for the Arvada (CO) Fire Protection District and an 18-year veteran of the fire service. He has a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of Colorado and an associate degree in fire science technology from Red Rocks Community College. A certified fire officer, he recently implemented an administrative volunteer program to fulfill the needs of his organization and his community.