No longer just a small-town problem, one of the most significant issues facing volunteer services is recruitment and retention. The population of communities served by volunteers is both shrinking and aging. The pool to choose from is getting smaller, and people do not seem to have the time.
A move to more rigorous training standards means a greater time commitment, especially for the new recruits. About 120 hours are required to complete NFPA 1001 1 and 2. Not to mention the necessary weekly training that most departments host to keep volunteers up to snuff. The time commitment for volunteers is significant seeing most, if not all, carry full-time jobs during the day.
Volunteers remain a crucial part of our province’s fire service, making up more than 60 percent of firefighters. Despite the challenges, most volunteer fire departments continue to make do, and that is largely through the dedication of the volunteers who remain. For the volunteers that make it to the five-year mark, the likelihood they will stick around is higher.
Management needs to stay on course for recognizing the commitment of its volunteers. No two municipalities recognize their volunteers the same, and some do better than others. It is unfortunate that in some cases recognizing volunteers for years of service comes with a fight.
There are municipal and provincial recognition certificates that should be honoured, but there are other ways to recognize volunteers. Quinte West, for example, distributes a framed years-of-service certificate with a pin for five, ten, fifteen, and twenty years. Not only does this honour recognition, it also creates a sense of pride that comes with serving one’s community.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to recognizing volunteers for their dedication. You are encouraged to talk to your stewards about ideas for recognition and make it a labour-management issue if necessary. Properly recognizing the dedicated service and commitment of volunteers is a necessary first step toward recruitment and retention.