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Firefighter Participation, Call Response, Training...etc.

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  • Firefighter Participation, Call Response, Training...etc.

    Hello Guys/Gals,

    As I am sure many of you are experiencing, our department is having some huge issues with our firefighters responding to calls, participating in meetings, coming to training....basically anything revolved around the department. We are also having trouble recruiting new members to the department. We are a small town with a small department of about 28 firefighters. We have about 15 EMTs and a couple medics. We respond to anything fire related (obviously), as well as vehicle accidents, alarms, etc... and we respond as mutual aid for our local EMS agency for any medical related calls.

    Many times we have meetings and classes and maybe a half dozen folks show up. We had a fully involved residential structure fire about a week ago and 4 people, including myself and the chief showed up. Thank God for automatic aid with a nearby station! We have tried so many different things to get our people more engaged. We have tried to do more hands-on training than classroom. We have tried to have workout nights where our people come and we all exercise together, the most we ever had was 3. We bring up the issues in meetings and get no real usable feedback. I even sent out an anonymous questionnaire last week. So far I have received 11 responses. Most of them say that they are just too busy with work, school, family..etc. Some of it goes back to being proud of our department. Some of it is issues with our leadership.

    I am here begging for some insight on these issues!! What do you guys do to keep your folks engaged? What tricks do you know of for recruiting good people? How do you hold your volunteers accountable?? Do you make training mandatory? Do you make meetings mandatory? If so, how well does this work in the volunteer service? We are always weary of making anything for our volunteers "mandatory", but I think training should be. Do you have get-to-gethers? Do you go out for beers from time to time? ANYTHING WILL HELP!


  • #2
    Hi there! At our station we are required to show up to 5 calls a month, otherwise we get kicked off. So that has pushed people to show up a little more regularly. We also have 1-2 group trainings a month that are mandatory.


    • #3
      Thanks for the response! Keep them coming guys...I am wanting to hear your thoughts and the guidelines you all have at your departments. I would like to take some ideas to the next officer's meeting.


      • #4
        I wish that I could give you some magic words, but the reality is that what you are facing is more common than you may think.

        And wth a limited pool of potential members that as a small town you have to draw upon ...... It's that much tougher.

        I currently am a full-time employee of a combination department as well as a volunteer in another combination department and a LT in an all--volunteer department in NW LA. I also have a past history as a volunteer in NY and VT.

        The only answer that I have is a develop a culture where attending training and making calls becomes the EXPECTATION. In other words, you have to develop a culture where being on the fire department is a privledge that can be lost if the members chose not to participate. That may mean cutting loose members who choose not to after the expectations have been set and diseminated. That may mean developing some type of criteria for membership where folks will be turned down after they apply if they don't meet the criteria ...... Example would be a 30-hour class that would have to be passed with both physical skill and cognitive knowledge testing

        Tough stuff. But if you want to change the culture of "I'll show up when I want to" it may be the bitter pill that your department has to swallow.
        Train to fight the fires you fight.


        • #5
          LaFireEducator...Thanks for the response. Very helpful. I agree with basically everything you have said. I feel like our department seems more like a club than a fire department. It seems like people don't see it as a privilege with expectations but rather that regardless of how much they are training and participating that they are helping out as a volunteer.

          What I would like to see happen is for us to start out the new year with new guidelines and expectations. What will most certainly happen, however, is right off the bat we are going to lose a handful of firefighters who don't want to or don't have the time to put that much into it. So initially this move is going to be very tough on the department and the community. But I think that if you stand back and look at the big picture and focus on the long term, it would be the best move for the department.


          • #6
            It's a challenge I am facing right now on both my combination and volunteer departments. While we have volunteers that do regularly attend training and do make calls when they are available, there are many that do not and are not removed from the roster, for a variety of excuses.

            That being said, my previous volunteer department in northern Vermont had a pretty no-nonsense policy regarding training. To remain on the department you had to make 75% of the training and if you wanted to retain interior status or remain an officer, you had to make 80%. Every three months the Chief would get a report, and if you fell below those numbers, you had 3 months to meet the standard. If you didn't. you were given a 6-month suspension. If you chose to come back, if you did not meet standards you were dismissed from the department.

            In addition to the once weekly nigh training there was also a weekday training session once a week and a Sunday training option. In addition, you could attend the neighboring department's training on specified nights where general skills were being taught, so we gave them plenty of options.

            We also had a 60-hour introductory class which had to be completed before you could respond. It included both classroom and hands-on and all the skills had to be completed and all tests had to be passed with an 80%. The pass rate was about 70%.

            Once all of these changes were implemented we lost about 50% of our members. However, we became far more effective even with reduced manpower.

            There are many places where if you can come, come and if you can't, that's OK. Personally I think that's crap. Keep up the good fight. Your department will be better in the long run.
            Train to fight the fires you fight.


            • #7
              I am on 2 FD's, one of which I am new to. The one where I have been there for a few years doesnt want to address our participation problems. We constantly get told in meetings to "step up" but the problem is, they have volunteers who live towns away who can not make a 3rd or 4th truck let alone the 1st or 2nd. We are supposed to do 24 hours of volunteer time and 6 runs/month. Its not enforced well. You are supposed to be excused for class, work, family emergencies. However, people just dont care because we arent made to care. You have the cliques and those are valued more then everyone else who is not a part of them. People can bust their butt to earn a cert, and receive no recognition but when a member of the "cool club" does it, mass messages and facebook posts are made recognizing their work or they get department awards.


              • #8
                I know this is an old thread, but I have a thought that I would like some opinions on. We are having similar issues with getting people to show up for calls at our volunteer department. I was wondering if any departments have (or had in the past) any kind of paid on call program? By this I don't mean volunteers getting paid if they show up to a call, but rather get paid to guarantee themselves to be available for certain time periods to show up to calls. For example, 2 or more people could sign up and be paid a small stipend each day and/or night, and this would basically guarantee a response to every call rather than hoping someone will show up. Sometimes now we have enough people show up for a call but sometimes we have 1 person or no one at all show up, so this would theoretically eliminate that issue so long as we can fill the "shifts". I have tried to suggest getting something like this going in our department, and there seems to be some interest. If anyone has any experience with this type of setup I would love to hear what worked, what didn't work, what can be done to make the program successful, etc. Thank you!


                • #9
                  I generally find the best way is to keep them chained to the apparatus, and beat them often.

                  You're basically asking what the secret to life is here. It's a tough question many have been asking for decades, with few real answers.


                  • #10
                    The department I just got on with has training and call attendance requirements, and they post the statistics so everyone can see who is attending what. A wee bit of peer pressure, if you will. A couple of guys have been suggested to resign as they weren't meeting the requirements. If you're going to have requirements, they need to be realistic, though. Expecting 80% training attendance, fine, but if you expect 80% call attendance, you're going to have problems.

                    The other suggestion I can make is to have real, relevant training for your members. Sitting around shooting the crap is fun for awhile, but it does get old, as does equipment/truck checks every single training night.

                    Beyond that, we're always going to have staffing issues.
                    Two departments, twice the fun...


                    • #11
                      want to guarantee someone shows up? pay them. want to guarantee firefighters in the firehouse when the bell rings? pay them.

                      want to hope and pray that someone shows up, if they have nothing better to do? well, that's how the volunteer FD has operated for the past hundred years...
                      If my basic HazMat training has taught me nothing else, it's that if you see a glowing green monkey running away from something, follow that monkey!



                      • #12
                        drparasite, maybe we are unusual in that our local manufacturing releases our volunteers from work and pays them for the fire time up to the end of their shift. We typically see an initial engine response in under 3 minutes, and manning is 6 per engine, 4 rescue and 5 ladder. Annual city budget is just north of $300,000 for housing, equipment and maintenance for a fleet of 9 pieces. To provide minimum manning on a 24 - 7 schedule would require about an additional 2.5 million. We are already at a class 3 and going paid would probably drop us back to a 4 or 5 due to reduced apparatus (money to pay wages instead of equipment and no one to man 3rd & 4th engine) So in the analysis, a paid department would increase everyone's insurance by 10%, increase the Fire Protection Tax by 9 times, and provide a much poorer service.


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