Recruiting & Retaining Volunteer Firefighters

Volunteer Fire Departments thrive when their membership numbers are sufficient to the community challenges, they have a welcoming & professional culture for new recruits, and they actively support their membership. Recruitment and retention need to be an ongoing focus.

Here are some approaches to consider. A long list, but not an exhaustive list. Please let us know know if you’d like to suggest an addition:

Recruiting Volunteer Firefighters

Recruit & Retain

  • Have a regular annual recruitment month each year (with a recruitment team; Chief/Admin/others):
    • List it on your website; communicate before it opens, after it opens, repeat when it is closing.
    • Consider the best month for your department; fitting in with your training calendar, e.g. early enough for S130-190 after the review & onboarding process.
  • Create an online audience; do the work to communicate with your community, so they’ll listen when you need:
  • Engage your offline audience; Newspapers, intersections,
    • Post articles in any local printed publications; e.g. interviews and/or calls for volunteers.
    • Pin up fliers in the local store, restaurant or coffeeshop. Include the community centers.
    • Find candidates where they are and spread the word; church, gym, state park. Use what resources and advantages you have.
  • Host open days; family friendly showing of trucks, the membership and the camaraderie.
  • Post firefighter interviews to let your community know that firefighters are just like them.
  • Post fire photos (if you have them, following shared image guidelines), and/or [other action photos, e.g. training] to let the community know what they might get to experience.
  • Invest in candidates likely to succeed and explain the pros and cons. Look for their commitment. The younger are enthusiastic but less income stable and more likely to move for work, the older might have more time and focus. You can never tell who will work out, and so recruit both, and support both. Recruit men and women, young and old; diversity is a strength, including for recruiting more diversity.
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Retaining Volunteer Firefighters

Listen to your firefighter membership, they’ll tell you what your department needs are, but here some ideas to start a conversation:

  • Promote a professional culture; senior officers & firefighters embracing all members, open to change, leading professional service to the community.
  • Mentorship; senior firefighters mentoring newcomer firefighters (with mentor support.) Both benefit enormously.
  • Give firefighters responsibility; give them tasks / ownership and see them engage in their department.
  • Invest in Training; Training is a lot of work & preparation to organize and instruct. Share the load, and find creative ways to strengthen training & keeping things fresh.
  • Annual awards allow firefighters to recognize their fellow firefighters, strengthening the bond between them, and to their department. Annual Awards examples are Firefighter of the year, Officer of the year, Newcomer of the year, or specialty; Wildland Firefighter of the year or EMT of the year, or numbers based; Top Trainer/Trainee, Top Responder.
  • Summer Picnic / Fall BBQ - volunteer firefighters are a community; allow their families to get together.
  • Department apparel - on top of uniform items - such as a warm department beanie, a gear watch with a second hand for taking vitals, a department belt, a pocket knife. Small acts of appreciation go a long way.
  • Membership perks - Allow your firefighters to wash their trucks on the station apron, or use the dumpster, whatever you can allow & afford.
  • Recognize their service - mark the milestones of a year, of five years, ten or twenty years. Celebrate those with thirty or more. Allow tenure to be a badge of honor.
Responserack provides innovative volunteer fire department software and NFIRS incident reporting software for volunteer fire departments. Responserack integrates CAD dispatch notifications - publishing to member communications platforms such as Slack or Group Me, combining location/place information and department notes into real-time notifications. Learn more about Responserack - Volunteer Fire Department Software.


Recruitment and retention are important ongoing activities within a volunteer fire department that strengthen that department, and allow it to thrive.

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