Department Spotlight: Brighton Fire Department, Inc.
Department Name: Brighton Fire Department, Inc.
Location: Rochester, NY
Department Type: Mostly Volunteer
Number of Active Volunteers: 84
Community Type: Suburban
What challenges have you experienced in terms of recruiting new members to your department?
We face the mix of challenges that are common among our peers, such as competing interests for free time and the increase in training requirements, specializations, and call volumes. Other challenges include that we are based in a high cost of living area compared to many of our neighboring communities, and that neighboring fire departments hire our volunteers for career positions.
What methods have proved successful in recruiting new volunteers?
Far and away: Having a plan and a consistent team to execute the plan over time, and making thoughtful adjustments to the plans based upon our experiences and changes. I also believe that people don’t join the fire department based upon a Facebook post or a billboard (and we spend a lot of money on those); they join on because of a personal connection. Remember that the money you spend on advertising is to get more people to make a personal connection with your organization – you need a good team of recruitment people to quickly and personally make that connection with those who express interest.
What has your department done to reach all demographics in the community?
We certainly haven’t reached all the demographic groups in the community but we are definitely working towards it. We feel that the limited resources we have should be applied to the biggest groups and biggest splash outside our normal recruiting pool of neighbors and friends. Paid Facebook advertising including some videos we’ve made, a radio campaign on our NPR station, and an LED billboard along a busy highway have been the best methods for getting our word out so far. We know these have been successful because we track attendance at our quarterly Prospective Member Information Sessions for the last eight years. And we know from our own observations that we have much greater diversity in age, race, gender, education, and income than we’ve ever had in the past.
How have you used the Make Me A Firefighter campaign in your recruitment efforts?
Although we launched some of our recruitment materials before the Make Me A Firefighter materials were available, we do utilize all of the NVFC’s videos on our web site and in our marketing.
How does your department support the retention of volunteers?
We have implemented many innovative programs. We have created a “cafeteria plan” of participation models (on-duty, POV response from home; on-duty flycar response from home; on-duty at the firehouse; bunker program for college students; off-duty POV response from home; etc.). We have engaged with an executive coach from the business community (without fire service experience) to mentor our officers, create and facilitate an Advisory Team to collect input on big issues and decisions from across the membership, and bring the key leadership team members together on “organizational culture improvement.” We are working on a job description to hire a volunteer recruitment and retention coordinator. We are also creating more flexibility in membership requirements rather than the rigid structure of the past.
What tips or advice do you have for departments that are struggling with recruiting and/or retaining volunteers?
Gather stakeholders and assess your needs. Attend VCOS and other networking and learning opportunities. Take the R&R Certification Program. Develop a strategic plan. Get roadblocks out of the way. And execute a plan consistently over several years. Use the already-developed resources from your state associations, the NVFC, etc.
Anything else you’d like to share?
We often say that we aren’t in the fire business, rather we are in the people business – internally and externally. Focus on the people in your community and the people in your organization. Challenge your current practices. Learn from what isn’t going well. Find opportunities to try something innovative or even just new-to-you, and don’t be afraid of it not working well. You will “what-if” or “underfund” your recruitment/retention programs to death if you don’t have a plan and take some risks within it. You have many others to learn from, and a ton of resources already developed… your chance of failure is slim. Get to it!