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Non-Traditional Volunteers

Daniel C. Olsen, SDAO Senior Consultant


There are a number of additions that can enhance your fire department. However, they may not be done because your or your existing staff simply do not have the time, or expertise, to get them done. I know, you may be saying to yourself, “we have a hard enough time recruiting firefighters and emergency medical volunteers, and you want us to add more…who are not emergency service volunteers?”


Six Reasons to consider non-traditional volunteers

Non-traditional volunteers can be very beneficial. Here are six reasons you should consider nontraditional volunteers for your organization:

1.     You have individuals in your community who want to serve in a meaningful way but may not be interested in being a firefighter or medic or believe they are not able to be fire department volunteer.

2.     You have jobs that could be done by individuals who are not trained as firefighters or medics.

3.     You have jobs that are time-consuming.

4.     You have jobs that require an expertise or experience you may not have.

5.     Every volunteer is a connection to the community and can enhance your organization.

6.     They can take some of the burden off existing volunteers avoiding overload which can help to retain existing volunteers.


Many of the opportunities I am going to mention are ones that I have personally encountered.

I am not saying to try and fill all of these. But as you read them, I hope they will give you an idea of something that could be beneficial to your organization. The major areas to consider are:

·       Maintenance

·       Logistical support

·       Media relations

·       Fundraising

·       Special Events

·       Professional services

·       Special Projects



A retired gentleman came into the fire station, where a friend of mine was Fire Chief. He said he was retired and asked if he could help out by sweeping and cleaning the fire station. The Fire Chief asked the man’s background. He said he was retired. He had worked as a Mater Mechanic for a truck company. He had numerous current certifications and also his own tools. Guess what? He became a valuable asset to the Fire Chief and the District.

How about…

·       Inventory Control. A person responsible for ensuring the uniforms’ personal protective equipment is distributed and properly cared for.

·       Building maintenance of fire district buildings.

·       Fire station grounds and landscaping. How about a firefighter memorial?

A great resource is “retired” volunteer members. Volunteer firefighters who have served but now have decided to retire from volunteer service because of age and health reasons. As Fire Chief, I established a “Special Services Division” of retired volunteer firefighters. They met regularly, maintained their rank and membership. Their assignment was restoring and caring for antique fire apparatus we had. They never looked better.


Logistical support

One department had a physically impaired individual who had a strong desire to serve. When an alarm sounded, he responded to the station, staffed the radio desk, and provided support to the responders at the incident.

Another department had a number of volunteers with young children. This grandmother would respond to the fire station and care for the young children. Eventually, one room in the stations became a childcare center where parents had a safe place for leaving their children when responding to emergencies and attending training sessions.


Media relations

Do you have someone that can write press releases and get them published? How about a department, district, or community newsletter? Who is doing your social media?

 All of these are about reaching out to your community, informing them, gaining their trust and support.


Your district’s primary funding is most likely a permanent tax rate. Could you use some more funding for needed projects? Of course, you could. But funding raising needs someone who is knowledgeable about how to raise funds. Fundraising is both a skill and an art. Although you can do it, how well can you do it? Recruit a volunteer who has expertise in fundraising,

Grant writing, like fundraising, requires expertise. There are sources of funding, but your proposal must be properly written to gain approval. Recruit a grant writer as a volunteer.


Event Planner

You have events throughout the year you want to be successful. Examples of events include:

·       Annual appreciation banquet

·       Memorial ceremonies

·       Promotion ceremonies

·       Retirements

·       Open house

·       Family appreciation night

·       Seasonal events such as Christmas Tree Lighting and Easter Egg Hunt

·       Community Parades

Events need to be carefully planned and executed to get the most out of them. Just a few items that need to be addressed include scheduling the date, location, decorations, food/refreshments, music, program, entertainment, invitations, setup, and cleanup.

An event planner can plan, organize, coordinate and schedule tasks to be completed.


Professional Services

One chief I knew, in Illinois, recruited a local printer to be a volunteer. The printer took care of layout, graphics, and production of a wide range of items from notices, training manuals, community notifications, signage, and other items.


A chief in Texas recruited a person whose hobby (a very skilled person) was photography to be the official photographer for his department. The person had the equipment and expertise to document emergency and nonemergency activities. Also, the photographer had access to local print media in the area, helping to promote the Department.

Other service to consider could include Information Technology and a

Department Historian/Curator.


Special projects

Examples of special projects to consider include a Lobbyist and Community Outreach Specialist.

As Fire Chief, we had a Boy Scout Troop 911. For that you need a Scout Leader.

A fellow Fire Chief organized a fire safety puppet show. It had its own volunteers, lighting, sound system, props, and bus for transporting the cast and equipment. It was a huge success traveling outside the Fire District.

Some districts have effective programs in place for producing and installing rural address signage which greatly assists emergency response.


One last work…Recruiting

Do you need a volunteer firefighter to recruit volunteers? But one of the finest volunteer coordinators I have ever known was retired from the military (where his last tour of duty was as a recruiter), What an asset he was.

These are only a few suggestions to consider regarding using non-traditional volunteers. What are your thoughts? Where could you use non-traditional volunteers to help your department or district?