Photo by Frank Prager
Dorsey Volunteer Fire Department Assistant Fire Chief Scott Aljets hosted a recruiting strategy meeting attended by more than a half dozen area departments.
Volunteer fire departments are the bedrock of America’s fire service. In the United States, the National Fire Protection Association reports that 71 percent of firefighters are volunteers.
Scott Aljets, assistant fire chief for the Dorsey Volunteer Fire Department, puts it plainly: “When you live in a rural or small community and dial 911 for a medical emergency, the person who walks through your door is going to be a volunteer firefighter. If there is a car accident or you have a house fire, the man or woman who is going to arrive to treat the victims will also be a volunteer firefighter.”
Today, however, volunteer departments are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain new firefighters. Over the past 20 years, the number of volunteer firefighters has decreased by 10 percent nationwide. Busy schedules, professional lives and other family and community activities make people feel like they do not have the time to participate.
At the same time, volunteer departments have evolved over the decades and many people are not aware of the benefits and flexibility available when they are part of these organizations.
The Dorsey Fire Department hosted a meeting Wednesday, March 16, at which more than half a dozen local departments and organizations discussed strategies for recruiting and retaining volunteers. Volunteer departments from Cottage Hills, Holiday Shores, South Roxana, Hamel and Fosterburg attended, as well as the Alton Volunteer Emergency Corps.
A focal point of the meeting was the way departments can accommodate people’s schedules to make it easier for men or women of any age group to participate. Steve Cooper of the Holiday Shores department emphasized the ability of his department to work with an individual’s specific requirements.
He noted that 85 percent of the department’s calls are during the day when many typical volunteers are at their regular jobs and cannot respond.
“Newly retired individuals, people who work from home and shift workers can volunteer to work during the day only and do not have to be concerned with being called out at night,” he pointed out.
Cooper explained his department recently brought in a new recruit in her 50s who only works emergency medical services during the day.
“Flexible training schedules and online training also make it easier for people to be involved,” he said. “People do not need to feel like they have to be at the fire house every Monday night.”
Dan Brooks, fire chief for the Cottage Hills department, noted that young people should be aware of the training available and the role membership can serve in enhancing a person’s resumé when looking for a job.
“Anyone looking for work in an industrial or safety-oriented career will benefit from the training they get,” he explained.
The many benefits also include the contribution to the community, the life and work experience gained and the camaraderie, prestige and relationships developed by being involved in the organizations. Volunteer firefighters are held in high esteem and are looked at as leaders by others in their communities.
The departments will collectively be embarking on a campaign to publicize the benefits of membership through the use of public advertising as well as print and social media.
Anyone interested in learning more about volunteer opportunities can go to http://volunteerfirefighter.org/#/ for information and to fill out an application. One of the banners on the website notes proudly, “Superman Doesn’t Do It For The Money Either.” Individuals can also contact their local department directly by searching for contact information on the web or Facebook.