How Involving Families Can Help Recruit Volunteer Firefighters
By Dr. Shana Nicholson, faculty member, Emergency and Disaster Management at American Military University
Volunteer firefighters are essential for serving and protecting their communities, but they are especially important in rural areas with smaller departments. However, fire departments across the country have been struggling to recruit and retain volunteer firefighters. As a firefighter with the Shinnston Volunteer Fire Department in West Virginia, I have seen these struggles firsthand.
In recent years, our department has adopted a family-oriented approach to recruiting volunteer firefighters and we’ve seen it make a huge impact. Creating a legacy of service that extends through multiple generations of firefighters allows parents to pass their knowledge, dedication, and passion for the fire service to their children. As a result, there has been a much lower turnover of personnel compared to the average volunteer department and there is a strong camaraderie within “The Ten House.”
How Does “The Ten House” Make It Work?
The Shinnston Volunteer Fire Department is a small, rural department that serves about 10,000 residents for initial response and mutual aid. In 2014, we responded to 642 alarms, ranging from structure fires and medical calls to vehicle accidents with injuries and entrapments. We are fortunate to have more than 40 volunteer firefighters, many of whom are legacy firefighters.
It wouldn’t be possible to have so many volunteer firefighters without the support of our families and community members. The department actively involves the families of its volunteers so individuals can more easily balance their personal lives with serving the community. We’ve created a social aspect to the job by organizing cookouts, holiday celebrations, birthdays, weddings, and even football games.
The Ten House also holds events for “Friends of Ten” where we show our appreciation for the support of our family, friends, and community members. It is not uncommon to find several volunteer firefighters, their spouses and children playing in the bay on any given evening in Shinnston. As many firefighters know, bonds between individuals are formed during down time in the station just as much as when responding to a call.
Assistant Fire Chief Derek McIntyre’s wife, Megan McIntyre, stresses how important it is to include everyone in the auxiliary components of fire service. “If you are a dedicated member of your fire department but you don’t include your spouse or significant other, then your service may not last because something will have to give if your relationship is going to work,” she said.
The McIntyre’s are huge advocates of continuing legacies in the fire service and they often involve their children in activities within the department. Their five-year-old son Colton is pictured above with another legacy firefighter, Mark Jefferies, whose father was also a member of the department.
In order for rural communities to maintain a robust volunteer fire department, it is critical to actively involve family members and other community members. We need to ensure the value of service continues to be passed from one generation to the next.
About the Author: Dr. Shana Nicholson has more than 20 years of emergency medical and fire science service experience. She is currently a member of Valley Volunteer Fire Department in Marion County, WV. Her professional background also includes government, social services, and nonprofit administration. She is currently a faculty member in emergency and disaster management at American Military University. She received a bachelor’s in criminal justice from Fairmont State University, a master’s of science in human services with a specialization in criminal justice and a PhD in human services with a counseling specialization, both from Capella University.