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Fire and EMS: Figuring Out the Retention Puzzle

This article originally appeared on EDM Digest.

By Allison G. S. Knox, EMT-B, faculty member at American Military University

Many towns and counties throughout the country staff their rescue squads and fire departments with willing volunteers from the community. For decades, this system has worked well as many people throughout the community have wanted to give back and to make a difference. Many towns and cities have historical photos of the first volunteer fire departments for their town and city and – in many cases – these departments were quite large.

In the last few years, however, many towns and cities throughout the United States have encountered major issues with volunteer retention. Some agencies have struggled to respond to calls while others have struggled to hold onto members. One volunteer Emergency Medical Services (EMS) agency closed its doors due to a lack of funding. Another EMS agency closed its doors due to a lack of volunteers.

[Related: How Involving Families Can Help Recruit Volunteer Firefighters]

In many cases, town officials have voted to eliminate volunteer agencies because they have not been able to appropriately provide fire and emergency medical services care. As volunteers dry up, those in leadership positions are trying to figure out how to keep their membership base full. Would specialized training help?

The Retention Dilemma

Numerous ambulance agencies throughout the country have had trouble keeping their ambulances staffed. It is difficult, at times, because volunteers need additional income and volunteer work – of course – does not pay. Volunteer agencies, however, need volunteers to staff their trucks. When they have fewer volunteers, it becomes difficult to maintain a budget with the town that would provide the additional resources an agency needs to attract more volunteers.

[Related: Catering to Millennials: Challenges in Recruiting Volunteers for EMS and Fire]

Additionally, it can be hard to staff an agency with good emergency medical technicians and paramedics when retention is already suffering. Thus, volunteer agencies are stuck in a conundrum of trying to recruit and retain volunteers for their agency.

Specialized Training

For a volunteer company struggling to maintain members, the thought of trying to increase a budget is a daunting idea; the agency simply may not have the support of their local government to do it. However, offering a specialized training program in swift water rescue, or other specialized areas, may be very beneficial to a volunteer agency. It may be the one thing that keeps volunteers flocking to the agency and improves retention.

Many volunteer agencies throughout the country are having a difficult time keeping members because of a variety of different factors. Because of this, it may be prudent for a volunteer agency to offer specialized training. It may be the very thing that keeps members coming in the doors.

Ultimately, volunteer ambulance companies must continue to initiate intriguing retention strategies to keep members staffing their trucks.

About the Author: Allison G. S. Knox is on the faculty at American Military University. Her research interests are comprised of emergency management and emergency medical services policy issues. Prior to teaching, Allison worked in a level one trauma center emergency department and for a member of Congress in Washington, D.C. She holds four master of arts degrees in emergency management, international relations, national security studies and history. She also holds a graduate certificate in homeland security and a bachelor of arts in political science.  Allison currently serves Advocacy Coordinator of Virginia for the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians, Chapter Sponsor for the West Virginia Iota Chapter of Pi Gamma Mu International Honor Society, Faculty Advisor for the Political Science Scholars and Chancellor of the Southeast Region on the Board of Trustees for Pi Gamma Mu International Honor Society.

Leischen Kranick is a Managing Editor at AMU Edge. She has 15 years of experience writing articles and producing podcasts on topics relevant to law enforcement, fire services, emergency management, private security, and national security.

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