Long Island is a unique place when it comes to fire and EMS. If you were to take all of the apparatus on the island, it has more units than FDNY and Los Angeles combined. The other part of that is that it’s almost entirely protected by volunteers. Going back to the early days of firefighting, FDNY was also once a volunteer organization. As times changed, it became a paid entity. Long Island however, continued to go the volunteer route. Right, wrong, or indifferent, it’s what we are and we take pride in it. The big issue is that as times continue to change, an increase in emergency calls, and people being unable to spare their free time, the volunteer service is beginning to struggle. How do we overcome that?
There are a few things we can’t control. When it comes to EMS, a lot of departments have opted to go the paid route. The reason is because the call volume has dramatically increased over the years and the medical system is wildly abused. On the fire side of things, the increase in training and required certifications has made it harder for a person to become a firefighter or maintain their status as a firefighter. Some departments have an easier time retaining members than others, but how about recruiting new members?
We see how fire departments on the island attempt to recruit, whether it’s signs around the district asking for members, or electronic message boards outside of the firehouse looking for applicants. Most departments don’t have the budget to run social media ads that could reach potential recruits. Also, trying to recruit home owners in the district is difficult because most people work all day and have family and chores to tend to. Occasionally you’ll find a few people who can still manage time to come down, but they are few and far between. So how exactly are we supposed to get new members? It’s not simple, but the next few steps can help boost your numbers.
Many fire departments on the island have a junior firefighter program. Some are more organized than others. The good thing about the junior program is that you have young, eager people that are excited to become firefighters. They get to see the ins and outs of the fire department and learn the basics. You may say to yourself “That’s great and all. But what about when they decide to go to college?”. That’s fine. When a junior member becomes eligible to join the fire department, they have a solid year window to complete their firefighter 1 certifications and other certifications required by the department. That gives you a year’s worth of another person on the truck. When they return from breaks, they can pick up where they left off. Additionally, when they graduate from college, they can come back to the firehouse without having to go through the original training again. If you’re unsure of how to start a junior program or don’t know how you should run one, ask one of your neighboring districts that has a successful program.
Word of Mouth:
This one is pretty standard, but do we actually do it properly? If your department is hurting for members, ask current members to talk to their friends or family about joining. Ask them to actually do it though. Don’t let it be just a passing conversation. Reiterate the benefits or incentives your department offers so you gain the interest of prospective members.
Departments with EMS:
This one is important and sometimes overlooked. Fire departments that have ambulance companies have the largest amount of calls. The problem is that EMS calls can easily burn out your members. A lot of the time too, firefighters are the ones taking in those calls. Take a look at neighboring areas that have stand alone ambulance corps. Those organizations are filled with volunteer EMS providers. Why? Because the people that joined those organizations joined because it’s specific to EMS. The issue with ambulance companies within a fire department is that when you’re looking for new members, specifically EMS personnel, you are advertising it as a “fire department”. There may be individuals that live within your district that would love to volunteer their time to EMS, but may think that they have to be firefighters as well. If you market that you’re looking specifically for EMS volunteers for an ambulance company, you may get more applicants.
There are many ways to create interest in your community to get people to join the fire department. You just need to be creative within your means. Setting expectations early is also very important. You don’t want somebody who’s interested in joining to be met with all of these requirements, and the amount of time they have to spend down at the firehouse. The other side to that is to take a look at the requirements that your department calls for. Can they be changed to lessen the burden on new members? Have your bylaws been updated according to the times? For some departments, people get stuck on “this is always how we’ve done it.” But that is a killer if your department is starving for members. Don’t let those people get in the way. These are a few examples of how to get more members. It’s up to you to make a change if you want to see an upturn in your department. Not just for new members, but for the protection of your community as a whole.
Image Source: 27 East
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