Thorne McFarlane is a former assistant editor for Associations Now.
The National Volunteer Fire Council’s Make Me a Firefighter campaign helps struggling departments recruit volunteer firefighters.
Although an estimated 85 percent of fire departments are supported entirely or mostly by volunteers, the number of volunteer recruits has dwindled over the past three decades. The National Volunteer Fire Council is looking to reverse that trend.
NVFC’s 2017 Power of A Summit Award-winning recruitment campaign, Make Me a Firefighter, makes it easier for fire departments nationwide to enlist and retain volunteers by providing ready-made materials. Departments also have access to an online portal, where they can post available opportunities. A campaign website allows prospective volunteers to search for opportunities in their area, connect with local departments, and learn more about what it’s like to be a volunteer firefighter.
“Prior to this program, each individual department was responsible for their own recruitment program,” says NVFC Deputy CEO Sarah Lee, CAE. “This meant they needed to have the time and expertise on their staff to be able to do that. That’s tough to do.”
Lee says there are many reasons departments are having trouble recruiting. Stringent training requirements, higher call volumes, and the rise of dual-income households have all contributed to a dearth of volunteers. To make matters worse, many people simply aren’t aware of the need that exists in their local departments.
“That’s kind of the low-hanging fruit that we identified,” Lee says. “There’s this very basic knowledge people don’t have.”
Make Me a Firefighter eases the pressure on departments. “It’s unified the messaging for recruitment. It’s given this common brand and scheme all departments can use without needing to have that marketing or recruitment expert on staff,” Lee says.
This campaign, she adds, is also a more effective way to engage a younger audience. “The younger generations aren’t necessarily going to pick up a phone and call the station,” she says. “They want to be able to go online and see what’s available.”
Volunteerism has always been a pillar of the fire service. Lee hopes more people will recognize the value of becoming a volunteer, from learning practical skills to the intangibles that come with being an integral part of the community.
“They are saving lives and property,” she says. “A lot of the stuff could not be accomplished if these communities did not have these volunteer firefighters.”
[This article was originally published in the Associations Now print edition, titled "To the Rescue."]