Department Spotlight: Moscow Volunteer Fire and Ambulance

Department Name: Moscow Volunteer Fire and Ambulance
Department Location: Moscow, ID
Department Type: Mostly Volunteer
Number of Active Volunteers: 115
Community Type: Rural

What challenges have you experienced in terms of recruiting new members to your department?
Recruiting longer term community members has been our biggest challenge. We have a lot of young, university/college students wanting to volunteer with our agency. The students are great, and such a value to our agency, but often leave the community within 2-4 years after they finish the degree. One challenge has been to recruit this demographic when they are freshman or sophomores so we get several years out of them before they graduate and leave the community.

What methods have proved successful in recruiting new volunteers?

  • Student resident firefighter program for full-time college students
  • Training opportunities provided at a level to obtain career employment in the fire service
  • Social media
  • Student involvement fairs at local colleges
  • Community outreach events like Safety Fairs, National Night Out
  • CPR and Stop the Bleed classes.
  • Affordable EMT class
  • City of Moscow web site
  • Word of mouth, encouraging our members to reach out and talk to someone they feel might be interested in being a part of our department
  • Local pre-med program sends a lot of volunteers our way. At least 10-15 of our active EMS volunteers are pre-med or biology students.

What has your department done to reach all demographics in the community?

  • Community outreach events and fairs
  • Social Media
  • Word of mouth

How have you used the Make Me A Firefighter campaign in your recruitment efforts?

  • Posted opportunities for fire and EMS, and our student resident firefighter program
  • Social media
  • Part of a recent NVFC photoshoot

How does your department support the retention of volunteers?

  • More recent emphasis on peer support and mental health resources. We have a dedicated psychologist we can connect volunteers with immediately if needed and he also has given department trainings on PTSD [and] resiliency. We have provided CISM training, QPR, and Mental Health First Aid classes to our volunteers.
  • The City of Moscow supports the volunteer agency with administrative staff to help volunteers through onboarding, training, equipment, and general support. This allows for more consistent follow-through with new volunteers, and allows our volunteers who signed up to volunteer as firefighters and EMTs to actually be first responders and not agency administrators.
  • Keep current members engaged by sponsoring out-of-area training opportunities and bring training opportunities to Moscow.
  • Set clear expectations during onboarding, hold volunteers accountable for meeting training and call volume requirements.
  • Involve newer members in training and onboarding of the newest volunteers. Provides buy-in and leadership opportunities.
  • Provide housing for student resident firefighter volunteers.
  • Scholarship opportunities for students.
  • Lounge space.
  • Social gatherings and fun team building trainings like Laser Tag, Escape Room, etc.

What tips or advice do you have for departments that are struggling with recruiting and/or retaining volunteers?

  • Have dedicated people to support volunteers through onboarding to consistently check in with volunteers who are not meeting training or call volume expectations and to provide encouragement through the process. Helps retain volunteers.
  • Value volunteers time. Need to maintain a balance of accountability for meeting call and training requirements with opportunities to thank volunteers, make them feel appreciated and valued.
  • Politely and tactfully invite volunteers to resign if they can’t meet basic training and call participation requirements.
  • Ask for open and honest feedback, collect an exit survey in person or via email from volunteers who leave.

Anything else you’d like to share?
For the Ambulance Company, we recently changed our process for onboarding new volunteers. We now onboard new volunteers in groups 2-3 times a year, instead of every other month. The new volunteers have a group (5-12 volunteers) of people to train with; all get the same message, initial training, and timeline/deadlines for trainee task book completion. We’ve seen a significant increase in retention rates, and more comradery and communication with new trainees and trainers/crew coordinators. It’s also been more efficient for our administrative, leadership, and EMS training teams.

Find resources to help with volunteer recruitment from the Make Me A Firefighter campaign department portal. View more department profiles here.