On the Fourth of July last week, many cheered a parade displaying dozens of proud volunteer fire companies in what is a true, favorite slice of Americana. But in many communities everywhere now, like Warminster Township, volunteer fire companies are being told to transition from all-volunteer to paid employees because of the continuous struggle to recruit and retain free assistance.
Sounds logical, doesn’t it? But ….
Eliminating the volunteer corps might be regrettable. So before any move to a paid fire department, local officials should examine two areas: saving the volunteers by investing in and bolstering the segment, and assembling a combination volunteer-paid rank.
Warminster officials recently were told in a fire evaluation study to look into enhancing the township’s two volunteer companies. A declining number of volunteers has made it necessary, the study reported.
“The announcement from Warminster Fire Co. No. 1 that it is not able to guarantee a response to daytime demands suddenly calls into question the ability for the service to continue to be delivered to the residents of Warminster,” said the study. “The volunteer service should now be augmented by career personnel.”
Enhancement of the local firefighting corps must be done. But going too far in replacing all volunteers could leave town officials — and taxpayers — with a big bill in creating a career company. It could turn into a big mess, too, should it be necessary to eliminate paid personnel and hope for a volunteer replacement.
So how do you recruit and retain a new, stronger volunteer arm?
“Increasing your marketing and recruitment efforts is a positive way to gain support of local people who a yearning to make a difference,” according to Firefighternation, a fire station resource for information and products. “Marketing is a cost-effective tool designed to increase public awareness and encourage support from the local community.
First, it suggests, determine the target of a new volunteer generation.
“Younger generations are more connected to social media and technological advances,” it said. “It is vital to understand your target audience and what draws their attention.”
Next comes development of the fire company’s “brand” — a personality everyone likes and wants to assist.
“It sums up the message you want the community to think or feel about your fire department or company,” according to the site.
Our communities are fortunate already to have fantastic volunteers. But help is needed, and a serious effort should be made to revive the branch — not replace it.