Is this our best approach?

Best Damn JobI’ve read and watched this news clip from the NY Daily Dispatch about how training requirements in New York State are hurting the volunteer fire service:

Unfortunately, I think it follows a growing pattern of articles and news pieces that focus on the problems – and not the solutions to our recruitment and retention challenges.

While we certainly need to identify and acknowledge what the challenges are, I don’t think that promoting them, certainly making a news story out of them — is our best approach to motivating people to help us overcome our staffing issues by volunteering. Do you?

When it comes to training challenges, I’ve always said “There are no training requirements – only training needs. The training we need to do our jobs and keep ourselves and our customers alive.”

I know Chemung County Fire Coordinator Mike Smith personnally and I’m not sure if his comment wasn’t taken out of context. I don’t know. I’ll have to ask him.

I’ve been in his boots before. The media shows up one day to do a story on volunteering and you look it as a good chance to put a positive spin on all of the great opportunities available to serve your community.

They drive away and you’re left thinking that the interview went pretty well. A few hours later you watch the finished story unfold on the six o’clock news with the lead-in titled: Volunteer Fire Service in Crisis.

No big secret: controversy and sensationalism sell.

Now don’t misunderstand me. I’m not begrudging anyone for bringing the recruitment challenge to the surface — it’s just the way we’re doing it.

If we aren’t promoting the positive virtues of the volunteer fire service at every opportunity, how can we expect the public to know anything but the downside. Don’t sugar-coat the commitment but let’s focus on the benefits, tangible and intangible, because the list is many.

Is there anyone amongst us who doesn’t firmly believe that the positives far outweigh the negatives? If you don’t, maybe it’s time for you to move on to something else.

Nonetheless, I think the best statement of the entire piece comes from Webbs Mills Fire Chief Jason Halm who says, “You have to be more creative nowadays to attract the folks because there are lots of other opportunities and if you don’t, you’re out of luck.”

Truer words were never spoken.

As I end all of my conversations related to this subject: We can debate the reasons for the decline all day, but at the end of the day the only question that remains is, “What are you going to do about it?”

Is this really our best approach?

What do you think? Discuss it here. I’m curious to hear your take on this.

Here’s some other news items that make me wonder if we aren’t doing our best to convince people why they shouldn’t join the volunteer fire service:

See what I mean?


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Tiger Schmittendorf

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