Revised with new information as of February 17, 2015

 

 
 
Research and case studies regarding
recruitment and retainment of volunteer firefighters
& justifications for involving volunteer firefighters
that do NOT relate to "money saved"
 
 
One of the highest profile volunteer responsibilities in the USA - and, really, worldwide - is volunteer firefighting. Yet, go to a conference on volunteer engagement and you will find few, if any, workshops related to volunteer firefighting. Go to a web site with resources about volunteer engagement, and you may not find any information about the particular environment of volunteer firefighting. Likewise, walk into a fire station which is staffed fully or partly by volunteer firefighters, and you probably won't see any books related to volunteer management, in general, and few managers of volunteer firefighters attend DOVIA-related meetings or conferences.

This gap really bothers me.

I've been interested in the reasons fire stations involve volunteer firefighters, and the challenges faced in recruiting and retaining such volunteers, since 2001, when I started dating a volunteer firefighter in Germany. He's now my husband (and now a volunteer firefighter in the USA), and my interest in the particular environment of recruiting and supporting volunteer firefighters remains.

I've blogged about volunteer firefighters a few times:
I also recently started looking for research and case studies regarding recruitment and retainment of volunteer firefighters, as well as information that documents justifications for involving volunteer firefighters that do NOT relate to "money saved." A list of the resources I've found comes later on this page.

Summary of what the research says

All of these resources trace the majority of retention problems on the demands on volunteer time and leadership problems within fire stations. The lack of time is attributed to the increased competition for people’s time (more work hours, more commute hours for work, etc.) and because of the increased requirements in firefighter training over the years. Leadership problems are mentioned frequently, but not detailed in these reports.

The top reasons for active volunteer firefighters to stay were identified in these studies as an opportunity for philanthropy or application of civic duty, opportunity for acquiring skills, thrills, work environment, good management/leadership, social relations, material issues and recognition.

What isn’t noted in these reports as contributing to lack of volunteers, but probably should be, is:
  • volunteers being excluded from most, or a meaningful number of, actual firefighting activities, being put instead primarily in support activities (clean up after calls)
  • lack of awareness in the community that there are opportunities to be a volunteer firefighter
  • lack of a welcoming atmosphere by career firefighters for volunteers
  • lack of leadership opportunities for volunteers
  • perceived preference by station or association leadership of career firefighters
  • resentment of volunteer firefighters who have stayed far longer than most career firefighters at a station
  • lack of a welcoming atmosphere for diversity; for instance, if the community served has a diverse ethnic makeup, but that diversity is not represented in the firehouse
  • lack of a diversity in communications methods (not using social media, not listing volunteering activities on sites like VolunteerMatch, etc.)
  • lack of purely-social gatherings with fellow firefighters (all work, no fun)
The only way to know for sure about any one fire department or association is to survey both current and departed volunteer firefighters.

Here's what I have found so far regarding
research and case studies relating to the recruitment and retainment of volunteer firefighters, as well as information that documents justifications for involving volunteer firefighters that do NOT relate to "money saved":


US FIRE DEPARTMENT PROFILE 2013, (PDF), by Hylton J. G. Haynes and Gary P. Stein, November 2014
Abstract: NFPA estimates there were approximately 1,140,750 local firefighters in the U.S. in 2013. Of the total number of firefighters 354,600 (31%) were career firefighters and 786,150 (69%) were volunteer firefighters. Most of the career firefighters (71%) worked in communities that protected 25,000 or more people. Most of the volunteer firefighters (95%) were in departments that protected fewer than 25,000 people. There are an estimated 30,052 fire departments in the U.S. Of these, 2,477 departments were all career, 1,971 were mostly career, 5,797 were mostly volunteer and 19,807 were all volunteer. In the U.S., 13,400 (44.6%) of departments provided EMS service, 5,050 departments (16.8%) provided EMS service and advance life support, and 11,600 (38.6%) of departments provide no EMS support.


Retention & Recruitment for the Volunteer Emergency Services: Challenges and Solutions, (PDF), Second edition, 2004
By the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) with the US Fire Administration (USFA) and The Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
The National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC), in cooperation with the United States Fire Administration (USFA), initiated a study that cumulated with a national workshop on recruiting and retention in 1993. Volunteer representatives from 16 states participated in this event, which was held at the National Emergency Training Center, (USFA’s National Fire Academy), in Emmitsburg, Maryland. From this workshop came a general understanding of the problems with retention and recruitment nationwide, as well as many possible solutions to these problems. The findings were documented in the Interim Report on Retention and Recruitment in the Volunteer Fire Service: Problems and Solutions and in Recruitment and Retention in the Volunteer Fire Service, Problems and Solutions, Final Report, December 1998. In 2004, the NVFC and the USFA again decided to address the issue of retention and recruitment due to the ongoing national problem. Surveys were conducted via online methods, at various fire and emergency medical service (EMS) events, and based upon various association membership queries during the fourth quarter of 2004. The data was compiled and analyzed by the Public Safety and Environmental Protection Institute of St. Joseph’s University. The findings, provided in this later report, found several key areas of concern that will require action to address effective recruitment and retention efforts in the future. Page 127 is the start of a section regarding recruiting women, members of different ethnic communities, white collar workers, retirees and college students, one of the few resources that offer any advice on such.


Volunteer Firefighter Recruitment and Retention in Rural Pennsylvania, by Robert S. D’Intino, Ph.D., Pennsylvania State University Schuylkill, May 2006
Haven't had time to write a summary of this.


RECRUITING AND RETENTION OF VOLUNTEER FIREFIGHTERS: EXECUTIVE PLANNING, by Michael Yacovino, Jr., Town of Canton Fire Marshal’s Office, Canton, Connecticut

Haven't had time to write a summary of this.


Improving the Recruitment and Retention of Volunteer Firefighters Within the Martinsville Fire & EMS Department, by Kristopher W. Shrader, Deputy Fire Chief, Martinsville Fire & EMS Department, Martinsville, Virginia
Very general - not very specific in its recommendations.
 

 


 
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I've also compiled resources regarding recommendations for volunteer firefighter recruitment specifically:

Also see

 
   The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook

now available for purchase as a paperback & an ebook from Energize, Inc.


Completely revised and updated!
Published January 2014.
 


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