Serving the Whole Community: Older Residents

Practical tips for diversity, equity, and inclusion in your community

According to the 2020 U.S. Census, about 25 percent of the United States population is aged 65 years or older. It’s critical that fire and EMS departments take this large population into consideration when planning fire and life safety community education – and recruitment and retention initiatives. With improvements to healthcare leading to greater longevity and quality of life, more seniors are seeking opportunities to give back to their communities after retirement. The information below will help you develop a plan to recruit, retain, and serve older residents in your community.

For Recruitment and Retention:

  • Make your case for why they should join. Older adults, especially those who are retired, have many options for filling their time. Use information about the physical and mental health benefits of volunteerism to create your recruitment campaign. Their motivations to join are likely different than an 18-year-old recruit, so target your messaging to them when you reach out.
  • Expand your outreach. To reach older adults, you may need to rethink how and where you advertise for volunteers. AARP has information on organizations that promote volunteerism for older residents. Think about the organizations and services in your community that reach older residents – how can you work with them to make your volunteer needs known?
  • Offer varied ways to contribute. While some older adults may be well-suited for an operational role, others may want to participate in a nonoperational capacity. Think about responsibilities that can be given to a nonoperational volunteer to free up time for your operational staff. For example, you could ask for assistance with grant writing, fundraising, community education, or administrative tasks.
  • Provide varied training opportunities. Even a new volunteer with no previous fire service experience can learn what they need to know to contribute to your organization. However, the way older volunteers prefer to learn can be different. Make sure that you offer opportunities for in-person training and provide support for utilizing new learning technologies.

See It In Action: Check out this story of a 75-year old grandmother who joined her local fire department.

For Community Education:

  • Understand the statistics. People aged 65 and over are 2.5 times more likely to die in a fire than the general population. Factors like physical or mental impairments, using chemical substances such as medicines and alcohol, and living with smokers or in substandard housing are some of the risk factors that make older adults more vulnerable to fire injury and death.
  • Plan an open house just for older adults. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) provides a plan for creating an older adult-specific open house, which includes information on fall prevention, blood pressure screening, and fire safety tips. While many adults may already be familiar with their local fire department, the open house is a chance to educate them about their changing needs as they age, and how your department can help.
  • Use existing resources. In addition to the resources linked above, the U.S. Fire Administration and NFPA provide graphics, messaging, handouts, and other tools to educate older adults in your community.