Department Spotlight: Woodstock Fire Department

Department Name: Woodstock Fire Department
Department Location: Woodstock, VA
Department Type: All Volunteer
Number of Active Volunteers: 30
Community Type: Suburban

What challenges have you experienced in terms of recruiting new members to your department?
Our department faces many of the same challenges departments around the country are facing. These include increasing competition for volunteers among organizations, a decrease in the amount of time community members can contribute due to job and family commitments, and the growing demands of the fire service related to training requirements, fundraising, administrative tasks, and an increasing call volume.

In addition, our general community is aging, a growing number of our local workers are commuters which limits the amount of time they can contribute to community organizations, issues with other departments in our area have created a negative stigma related to volunteer fire departments, and [there’s been] a loss of connection between our department and the community as the demographics and population make-up continues to evolve.

What methods have proven successful in recruiting new volunteers?
To address the challenges we face with recruitment, we launched a coordinated recruitment campaign about six months ago that has helped us recruitment 11 new members. The most successful thing about it is the fact it is a saturation campaign. We have, and are still attempting to, reach every aspect of our community through as many avenues as possible. The current campaign includes social media outreach, a dedicated recruitment page on our web site, free print advertisements, visits to local schools, visits to a wide array of community events, and has included several recruitment events at the fire station. Basically, we push recruitment and promote our department all the time. This means individuals in the community learn about us and see us in a positive light, become interested, and then are easily able to find how to become a member of the department and start the process.

It is almost impossible to identify which of these efforts alone has been successful. However, when used together with dedicated recruiters, we have seen success.

What has your department done to reach all demographics in the community?
A saturation campaign like the one we have conducted has to reach all demographics to be successful. For example, since our community has a growing number of recent retirees, we do outreach to connect with them by attending events they frequent, by being more flexible on what we expect of our members based on their age and abilities, and by promoting ourselves in a way that shows this openness and shares the stories of other recent retirees who are members of our department. We have made similar efforts to recruit more female members and are working to recruit more members from our growing Hispanic community.

How have you used the Make Me A Firefighter campaign in your recruitment efforts?
The most important part of the campaign I regularly use is the training and expertise it provides. I am able to access exceptional articles and training resources that our members can use to be better recruiters through the department portal.

We also regularly look to the campaign’s materials and what other departments are doing for the campaign for ideas for events, flyers, social media posts, etc. Sometimes it means making something from scratch using an idea, and sometimes it means using the prepared materials/programs available. Either way, what Make Me A Firefighter creates for us all is the foundation for a lot of what we use.

How does your department support the retention of volunteers?
Primarily we retain volunteers by having high expectations for our members, by treating everyone fairly, and by providing our members with the flexibility they need to volunteer with us. Our department requires each of our members to attend a certain number of activities throughout the year, no matter who you are or what position you hold. These expectations are clearly spelled out and can be met no matter what an individual’s level of experience, work schedule, or other commitments.

While it may not be obvious how this helps with retention, the simple fact is that by requiring our volunteers to be a part of the organization and by making sure everyone is meeting those standards, we encourage involvement, brotherhood, and professionalism. This means members trust each other, want to help each other, want to be part of the department, and will call each other out when they do not meet expectations.

Our department also works to make our organization fun and family friendly. We have events at the station where members can enjoy themselves outside the typically stressful role they play, including visits to pools, dinners, sporting events, etc. and by making the station an enjoyable place with a nice lounge, welcoming atmosphere, etc.

While we also do an awards banquet, rewards for activity, etc., these two items above have proven to be the most successful.

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

  • Be positive about your department all the time; no one wants to join if they think there is something wrong with your department.
  • Recruit all the time. You never know when you might spark an interest.
  • Communicate with the community through every avenue possible. People aren’t going to join if they don’t know about you, and they get information in a wide variety of ways.
  • Make room for everyone. Hundreds of super athletic, dedicated, brilliant recruits aren’t out there. Instead, you have to bring in people to fill each role in your organization.
  • Be prepared for people. Have a smooth membership process, mentorship program, train them, and be welcoming.
  • Address negative attitudes and actions. If someone in your department is not going to accept new members, that needs to be addressed before it scares every potential person away. Likewise if there are demographic issues, internal fighting, etc.

Anything else you’d like to share?
In order to recruit and retain people you have to do something. It won’t always be right, but you can adjust to continue what is working and to reevaluate what is not. A department that simply stands around complaining that no one is around is the only one doing the wrong thing, and won’t be around long to keep complaining.

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