Overview:  Membership communications; balance the signal to noise ratio

When not on scene using radios, fire departments and fire department members need to communicate in sub-groups, and as a whole. Fire station notice boards are no longer the solution.

Notice board - by AbsolutVision

Notice board - by AbsolutVision

Group Email Lists

Many volunteer fire departments use Google Groups (or other email list services) to allow their leadership or membership to share with the group. At my department we have an active firefighter group, a retired firefighter and friends of the department group (to which we send the quarterly newsletter), a dispatch notification group (for firefighters and even family) and more. These groups are free and relatively easy to manage.

Some firefighters (especially new recruits) want ‘all the department they can get’; they wish to drink from the fire hose of information. More experienced firefighters need to balance their time; gathering what is key information while maintaining a busy work/family life. What is the right amount of information for one firefighter might not be the right amount for another. Senior officers and administrators with information to share have to determine if something is worth sending to the group, or if it might be considered noise. In order to avoid noise, information flow is stymied.

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Group Messaging (Text / SMS)

Some smaller groups (e.g. members at a station) and some departments use text messaging groups, but they can quickly become unwieldy; too much chatter / too hard to keep up to date with phone numbers changing. Systems like GroupMe help centralize group management, which is a requirement once the group is larger than just a few members.


We use GroupMe for response coordination … members saying ‘I am In’ after a dispatch notification. We could’ve used another system but GroupMe supports smart devices with WiFi, but doesn’t exclude those solely using text messaging (SMS).


Slack is effectively in the “Group Messaging” category. It requires more of the members; a new application on their phone, and another login, but it comes with benefits. Easily sharing photos and links (and fun giphy images to lighten the mood), plus creating Slack channels for #officers, #FDO (Fire Duty Officer), #covid19 and things like #gym or #mapping-project. Channels allow the membership to communicate and manage their own sub-groups, and direct messages, but the department controls all access. Other examples are a closed working group for #information-release (postings to social media), #SWAG committee, and so on.

That said … the younger / more technical will love Slack, the less technical might simply avoid it.


Take it slowly … communicate appropriately

Volunteer firefighters come in all sorts of differences … and amongst that … some love communications, some don’t … some love or tolerate technology, some avoid it. Some firefighters will join every group, subscribe to every Slack channel and engage on all these mediums. Some won’t and you won’t persuade them. Respect that, don’t try!

Don’t force it, let usage develop organically as it fills a need for the membership involved. It might take years to become accepted, and that is ok. If interested, start, and allow it to take the time. The goal is to benefit the members who want it, and not overload those that don’t.

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Example communications approach

Here is one approach for communicating with and amongst membership:

 Mechanism  Requirement Usage Examples
Everbridge Mandatory Time Critical  e.g. mutual aid crew, wildland crew. Training cancelled.
Email Mandatory Not time sensitive  e.g. upcoming training event information
GroupMe Mandatory I am ‘In’ Our home grown FF response system
Slack Optional Everything else Working groups, general information, member to member communications.
Note: Responserack provides this feature natively. See how Responserack can help your volunteer fire department.
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