Department Spotlight: East Franklin Fire Department
Department Name: East Franklin Fire Department
Department Location: Somerset, NJ
Department Type: Volunteer
Number of Active Volunteers: 50
Community Type: Suburban
What challenges have you experienced in terms of recruiting new members to your department?
While recruiting new members has not been an issue over the past few years, it has been recruiting local membership that has been a small issue. We have attended numerous events in an attempt to recruit members who reside within the fire district and have received only small interest. With every recruitment attempt we make within the fire district, the member only lasts a short time and either falls short on credits due to lack of attendance, stops showing up for department events, or has another reason why they stop volunteering at the firehouse.
What methods have proved successful in recruiting new volunteers?
One method that has been successful in recruiting new volunteers has been joining the Make Me A Firefighter campaign through the NVFC. We also have a very strong presence with our social media outlets. We have a Facebook account which links to an application for membership as a volunteer firefighter. With respect to this, we have social media accounts on Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and we have a very active webpage at Station27.com. All of these accounts show the public what we do on a day-to-day basis with respect to our fire responses, as well as the good work our membership does in the community.
Another note on our success has been our quick response to membership applications or interest in membership opportunities by our department’s leadership team.
What has your department done to reach all demographics in the community?
We have attended community events such as National Night Out within our fire district, have attended numerous summer and fall camp programs with our community partners, and we are very active with the fire prevention programs in the elementary and middle schools that are within our fire district. We attend various career day events at the local schools, and we cater to advertising for membership at the nearby State College at Rutgers University in the City of New Brunswick on all of our social media platforms.
We have participated in trunk-or-treat events yearly at the local schools during Halloween, Christmas gift-giving events at our local daycare centers, and turkey drives during Thanksgiving at some of the local daycares as well. We drive around our fire district every year around Christmas time with Santa Claus and participate in an event we call the Santa Run, where we hand out donated gifts and candy canes to the kids and allow families to take a picture with Santa. We began an event this year escorting the Easter Bunny around our fire district during Easter on one of our antique fire apparatus. We did this event to boost morale in our community with the current COVID-19 pandemic taking place in the nation and possibly help spark interest in community members to join our fire department. We are planning to make this a yearly tradition as well.
Have you used the Make Me A Firefighter campaign in your recruitment efforts?
Yes we have, and it has proven successful. We have received numerous applications through the Make Me A Firefighter Campaign, and we answer the applications for membership in a timely fashion, as they are received by our department’s leadership team.
How does your department support the retention of volunteers?
We have a duty crew program, which consists of daytime and nightly shifts six days a week excluding Saturdays, as well as bonus credit programs for attending overnight duty shifts. We provide almost unlimited training, both classroom based and hands-on based, free of charge. We have several hangout rooms within our firehouse, including quiet study rooms for students. We provide free wifi internet access for everyone. We have multiple printing stations for our college students and high school students to complete their required coursework, as well as a paid-per-call response for showing up for fire calls.
We offer a length of service award program, which can be taken after five years of continuous service in good standing. We provide t-shirts, hats, stickers and other various fire department merchandise free of charge, as well as merchandise that can be purchased by the member to show company pride. We have free washer and dryer for use by the membership, and we provide sleeping quarters for any member that wishes to stay overnight and does not reside close to the fire station.
We operate under the premise that we are one family and do not allow multiple cliques within our fire station.
What tips or advice do you have for departments that are struggling with recruiting and/or retaining volunteers?
My advice is to ask other fire departments what they do for recruitment and retention; use their success stories and make them your own. Do not be afraid to try new ideas, because with failure comes growth and opportunity. Recruit outside the confines of your fire district, and attend as many conferences as you can. Ask the leaders of other fire companies what they do to succeed and share what you do to succeed – this way we can all be a future success story among volunteer fire departments in the United States. Cater to people of all ages and all backgrounds, make things fun and interesting, and remember as leadership of your firehouse that you once were a new member, too, so do not forget that going forward!
Anything else you’d like to share?
Be active in your social media outlets. Be active in your membership pool, both in their lives at the firehouse and in their lives outside the firehouse. Stay invested, stay interested, and always remain progressive in your train of thought.
Our fire department gives the membership any tool they need to succeed in doing their jobs, whether it is a new uniform, a new duty crew shirt, permission to attend a class they have wanted to sign up for, etc… With that being said, our leadership team gives to our membership and [in return] we expect them to give 100 percent each and every time, whether it be during a duty crew, a fire call, a work detail, or a training class. If you find something is messy within the firehouse, clean it. If you used something in the firehouse, put it back in better condition then when you found it. If the garbage is full, take it out. These are simple rules we ask of our members, and we expect them to do these things without being told to do so.