NVFC Awarded SAFER Grant to Help Recruit and Retain Firefighters

The National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) was awarded a Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response (SAFER) grant by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The $2.8 million grant will span four years and enable the NVFC to continue its groundbreaking work to help departments recruit and retain volunteer firefighters.

Volunteers make up 70 percent of the fire service and are critical to protecting communities across the U.S. However, local volunteer departments are struggling to maintain adequate staffing to meet ever-expanding needs. Call volume in the last 30 years has tripled as the population has skyrocketed and emergencies have become more varied and complex. Statistics also show that the volunteer fire service is aging, with not enough younger members joining to replace those retiring from the fire service. Increased time demands, greater training requirements, and lack of awareness of the need for volunteers are among the barriers affecting recruitment and retention.

The NVFC was awarded a SAFER grant in 2014 to begin to address the recruitment and retention challenges facing volunteer departments. Through this initial grant, the NVFC developed the research-based Make Me A Firefighter campaign, which provides tools and resources to help departments recruit new members while raising awareness among the public of the need for volunteers. By the end of the three-year grant period, 26 percent of all-volunteer and mostly-volunteer fire departments were using the campaign in their recruitment efforts.

Individual departments often lack sufficient time, money, and resources to develop and implement a cohesive recruitment and retention program. The NVFC’s Make Me A Firefighter campaign removes that burden from departments while empowering them to recruit and retain volunteers more efficiently and effectively by providing easy-to-use, web-based, customizable tools and resources.

This second SAFER grant will enable the NVFC to build upon the Make Me A Firefighter campaign and add in a significant retention element. New tools, resources, and training will be developed to help departments reach new members, with specific focus on currently under-represented populations including women, young adults, minorities, and veterans. Research will also be conducted to identify effective ways for departments to retain volunteers and sustain adequate staffing levels.

A national summit will be held to highlight relevant research, best practices, and innovations in volunteer firefighter recruitment and retention. In addition, strategic outreach efforts will be conducted to engage more departments to participate in the campaign as well as connect more prospective volunteers to their local departments.

“Inadequate staffing poses significant health and safety risks to both the firefighters and the community they are trying to protect,” said NVFC chair Kevin D. Quinn. “This SAFER grant will enable us to continue our work to equip volunteer departments with the tools and resources they need to recruit and retain boots-on-the-ground firefighters. We thank FEMA for supporting our efforts and enhancing the readiness of departments and communities.”