It doesn’t take much effort to find an article depicting how difficult it is to find volunteers for the fire service. Rarely a month goes by without someone telling their story of how it is getting harder and harder to find new recruits. Two household workers, children’s events, time commitment, and training requirements imposed by the state and federal governments are all common reasons for why recruiting is such a challenge.
Well, that is unless you live inWisconsin. In an article written by the Associated Press and reprinted in an August 2011 edition of the Monroe Times – it was written that the U.S. Census Bureau reports that Wisconsin was eighth best in the nation and Milwaukee ranked No. 1 in the rate of volunteer retention. The report looked at how often people volunteer in their communities.
The report found that the average Wisconsinite devoted nearly 36 hours per year to volunteer work between 2008 and 2010. I understand the naysayers will quickly point out that being a volunteer firefighter requires more than 36 hours a year. I agree, especially during that crucial first year when a firefighter receives their initial training and certification.
However, being the optimist that I am, I prefer to look at the fact that a 36 hour average for the State is very good. Rather than complaining about how hard it is to find volunteers or retain the ones we have, we should be working to identify how we can attract those that are out there and willing to help.
I have written numerous articles on the issue of recruitment and retention, and my regular visitors know that it is my passion – some may say that I am obsessed with it. But at what point do we stop making excuses and begin looking in the mirror and asking why is our recruitment program not working? Why are our people leaving?
The most common problem I find when reviewing a department’s recruitment program is that it is treated like a high school relationship – it’s on again then off again. Too often departments begin the recruiting process only after the need is beyond obvious. The problem with this is that people want to be part of a strong and popular department, one that is lacking people or looks desperate is sure to have a difficult time recruiting good people. The second most common mistake is an unwillingness or inability to review the recruit program and the department honestly – I mean brutally honest!
Ask any successful professional how often they network, and they will consistently respond with “I am always networking”. They don’t wait until all of their customers have left them before looking for new ones, they are always looking – the only difference is sometimes their search is passive while other times it is proactive.
How hard do you work to identify why someone left your department? Don’t just settle for the basic resignation letter that talks about family or work commitments, or how they just don’t have the time anymore. Although at times these reasons are accurate, most often there is an underlying factor. I have met with a number of people after they resigned and discussed the reasons they left, I have yet to have one tell me the sole reason or even the primary reason for leaving was the time commitment. This is merely an easy non-confrontational means of leaving quietly. The process of asking someone why they are leaving is not easy and for many may be uncomfortable, but when the information is used correctly, it definitely benefits the program and the department.
SuitIf you really want to retain people, you need to press a little to find out why someone else left and you cannot just talk to the ones you like or perceive as assets to the department. Set aside personal differences and be prepared to hear some things that are less than flattering.
Strong departments did not become that way by luck. They recruit good people, they recruit all of the time, and they evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the department on a regular basis. Successful departments spend as much time finding out why someone leaves as they do learning about them during the interviewing process. There are volunteers available; we just need to align ourselves with them. Help secure your future success by strengthening your recruitment and retention program before you need it.

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