By Richard Kosmoski.

In these years of declining recruitment and retention in volunteer fire departments, do we accept any applicant who walks in the door and applies for membership?

Sometimes a fire company that has a declining membership will accept applicants who may otherwise not be accepted in a company that has a full roster. While not ideal, this may be necessary in order to allow the company to remain in operation and respond to emergencies in the community.

Let’s take a look at how the changes of today’s society have affected the type of person we have the potential to accept as a new member. First of all, it is difficult to convince a young, married adult to commit to the rigorous training requirements when it may be necessary for them to work more than one job just to earn a living.

At the same time, it may be worth pursuing these individuals because they may already be active in the community through school activities, youth sports, churches and more. These potential new members already are stakeholders in the community.

Loosening policy’s grip

Sometimes it is the policies, by-laws or whatever governs a fire company that have a detrimental effect on recruitment, and these must be loosened or changed in order to recruit and retain valuable prospective members.
The mandatory amount of fire calls that a member must respond to may not be as important as to the period of day when a member can respond.

Years ago when communities had local industries that operated around the clock, there were many shift-workers who were available during the day to respond to emergencies. These industries are long gone as are those valuable shift-workers who could be depended upon during the day. Many volunteers also must travel outside their home communities for employment and are unavailable to respond to daytime calls.

Why make a minimum amount of responses a mandatory requirement to remain a member? Wouldn’t it be to everyone’s advantage to have sufficient staffing on every response rather than to be overloaded at calls where only a minimum number of responders is required?

A better mousetrap

Each individual fire company must examine itself and the way its members are governed. With the number of actual working structure fires down over the past years, it doesn’t make sense for all members to turn out during the middle of the night for a confirmed CO alarm or a nuisance call.

Establish a platoon system and have only a select crew on duty during the nighttime hours for these type calls. Of course, when an alarm for a structure fire is reported, everyone is toned out and everyone goes.

This may be one way to eliminate wasted manpower as they standby at the fire station while the duty platoon completes their assignment. In these types of scenarios it would be difficult to rely on members making a minimum percentage of fire calls and punishing them when they don’t.

Many chiefs will say to reduce the minimum requirements for mandated training because that prevents many prospective members from joining. As a fire service instructor and a firsthand witness of the caliber of recruit coming into the fire service, the more training we provide a recruit, the better he or she will be when coming under pressure to save victims and themselves.

Do you know the cause of a declining membership in your fire company? If so, what adjustments or changes are you about to make to reverse this decline? Tell us in the comment box below.

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Richard Kosmoski is president of the New Jersey Volunteer Fire Chief’s Association. He has been a member of the Sayreville Fire Department for 40 years.