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Retention Starts Before the Application is Filled Out

Updated: Nov 25, 2021

Retention Starts during the Recruitment Process.

If you had a leaky pool, would you continue to fill it with water or would you patch the leak first? This same principle applies to the recruitment, onboarding process, and retention of members in the volunteer fire/EMS service. We provide the following recommendations for improving your membership process. Remember an effective, engaged, and robust membership is critical to organizational success.

1. Educate Potential Applicants: Too many people do not understand the volunteer fire service, especially in areas that have combination departments. The same people that do not understand the volunteer fire service are inevitably the same group of people you will be recruiting. It is important to provide as much information to potential applicants prior to applying. This would include resources on your website (Process, Time Commitment, Department Requirements, Training timelines, medical requirements, etc.). Be realistic about the time commitment.

A. Require a Ride-Along: Some departments require applicants to ride along for a few hours. This works for some departments but not everywhere. It can become a logistical challenge based on scheduling, call volume, staffing, etc.

B. Prospect Guide: Develop a comprehensive (yet easy to read) prospect guide. This can be included on your website as well as provided at in-person recruiting events. You should have a few printed out at the station as well for people who come in with questions. This guide explains everything required of an applicant, the process, the requirements, the benefits of being a member, and much more!

C. Create a Short Video: Include a short video on your website and or application site explaining the process. This could include some newer members who recently went through the process highlighting their experiences.

2. Make the Application Process Easy: It is 2021. Create an electronic application. Having to search for a paper application around the station when a candidate comes by or realizing someone took the last one and didn’t print anymore doesn’t leave a good first impression. Create an online application. It makes the back end of processing so much easier. If you can, drop the application fee.

3. New Member Orientation: Have a formal orientation program for candidates who are accepted. This program should review the fire service, review departmental policies, how to access email, where to find documents, a tour of the station, how to register for classes, meeting officers, etc. Realize that you may be bringing on experienced fire service personnel who can skip a majority of the orientation process, with the exception of department-specific information.

4. Follow Up: You don’t know what you don’t know. Maybe the process is broken. Create a survey that can be sent out to new members allowing them to provide feedback on the entire process. Take their feedback and implement smart changes.

5. Probie Manual: For someone brand new to the volunteer fire service, they have a lot to learn. Departments should create a “probie manual” that provides insight, direction, and education on the training process, internal clearance procedures, SOPs, etc. Make the manual interactive. Require them to meet certain officers, who need to sign off on tasks. This requires the new member to be engaged, come to the station, and meet people. This manual should answer every question the new member has.

6. Mentor Program: Along with a probie manual, you should evaluate whether a mentor program would be successful for your process and your department. This requires a significant amount of work and the RIGHT people! The last thing you want is the department’s disgruntled member serving as a mentor. Mentors must be responsive to new members- this is not a position or program that should be taken lightly.

A. Schedule “Newbie” days where your department provides education to a group of the new members. This can be expanded by having a meal, doing some hands-on training, meeting the member’s in-station, meeting the leadership, etc. It can be extremely challenging for new members who do not have a friend in the department. Doing group activities with new members will help bridge that gap and offer the opportunity for newer members to “buddy” up. New members with a buddy are proven to be more successful.

B. Create a communications platform that new members can ask for guidance or advice i.e. private Facebook group, GroupMe, Slack, etc.

7. Culture and Officer Engagement: Lastly, your department must have a welcoming culture. If everyone ignores the new member when they walk through the door- the process will never be successful. It requires the participation of all members to engage and help new members. Remember how you felt when you first joined your department? Break up that feeling! This includes officers. Officers must be resourceful and helpful to all members, especially new members.

Remember that everyone comes from different walks of life, yet everyone plays a role in ensuring the success of the department.

Retention never ends. Always evaluate and fine-tune your process.

Set your new members up for success.

Do you need help with developing a more efficient process? Having issues with retention? Having problems recruiting the right people? Need a recruiting strategy? Email us today,

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