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How to Improve the Administrative Side of your Volunteer Fire Department

Chances are you didn't join the volunteer fire service with the aspiration of being the president, treasurer, and fundraising chair. If you did, great! You most likely joined to become a firefighter or EMS provider, perhaps wanting to be an operations officer. The administrative roles are not as "glamorous" as being a lieutenant, captain, or chief, BUT they are just as important. A lot of the behind-the-scenes work: human resources, finances, marketing, fundraising, public relations, etc., are paramount to a department's success. Without money and proper financial controls, you can't pay for apparatus, equipment, turnout gear, and so much more. Throw in an embezzlement situation, and your community has lost trust in your ability to manage and secure their donation. Without processing people into the door, you will eventually lose the ability to respond to calls. The examples could go on. The machine behind the apparatus is enormous but often neglected.

So, how do we fix that? It falls in line with a majority of our blogs- the need to change the way we think about things. Without a doubt, there is a tremendous number of people in your community who want to help but have no desire to run into a burning building. Those people are professionals that bring a specific skill set to your department. Perhaps a CPA lives close by and wouldn't mind serving as the department's treasurer. The local realtor who specializes in marketing wants to help improve your marketing strategy and digital presence. A small business owner may have experience in event management and fundraising who is more than happy to become a member to assist.

All of this is great....but wait! We have to make them jump through a bunch of hoops because our Bylaws were written in the 1960s and last updated two decades ago. "We can't let these people into our department, let alone serve in leadership positions or as committee chairs," - someone yells during a membership meeting. Why? Why Not?! What does it hurt? Imagine having the ability to free up your operational personnel to focus on operational matters! They don't have to fill administrative roles if they don't want to. Plus, let's leave it to the people who have the skillset, education, or knowledge. These individuals have a vested interest in helping their local volunteer fire department and bring a unique perspective often lacking in our departments, but hey, let's send them to a hazmat class before they can help us.

So the problem is:

  • There is no specific membership category in the bylaws for them.

  • There is no pathway to a leadership position because the traditional way is through an operations position.

  • The requirements or onboarding process is very operational-driven, often causing these individuals to become frustrated and give up.

  • Fear...fear of losing control, losing power, losing....who cares?!

Now, not everything is rosy and perfect. You do have to be cautious of the individual who is only doing this for their self-interest. (Side note: everyone is calculated in life to advance themselves, everyone). It would be best to be on the lookout for people doing this only to promote their business or utilize your network to extend their services. We don't have time for them!

Aside from the working professional, do you have a local college in your area or a technical high school? Many students are looking for internship opportunities before facing the real world. Students are perfect for an internship role. Are you looking for a graphic designer, social media expert, data guru, etc.? Look no further than your closest college or tech school. The sky is the limit on interns. Imagine what they can do for your department. Again, we should point out the following:

  • You need someone to manage them.

  • You need to understand precisely what skillset you need.

  • You need to have a list of projects for them to work on and give them the latitude to do so

  • Realize they will most likely move on after a given period of time (if you hook them and they go register for FF1 or EMT, well then excellent!)

If your department is a part of a combination system or located in an area experiencing significant residential and commercial growth, most people don't understand the volunteer fire service. They don't realize they can be of value. You have to market your department to them. You have to sell the pitch and make the ask. Sitting back and expecting people to come to you will not produce any positive results.

So, in summary:

  • You probably need to update your bylaws.

  • Change the traditional mindset of who you are recruiting. Your operational personnel won't need to fulfill administrative roles if they don't want to.

  • Figure out what positions you want to fill, and define their roles/responsibilities.

  • Do target recruitment for these positions.

Watch your department excel. You can finally focus back on the things that "matter," training and responses!

Need help updating your Bylaws? Contact us today.

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