Genesee County Emergency Services Task Force Report
Volunteer fire and emergency medical services are an extremely valuable resource which saves taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars annually and adds to community spirit. However, they are in danger of becoming extinct. Problems with recruitment and retention of emergency services personnel have increased over the years to a dangerous level, and need to be continually addressed if volunteer emergency services are to continue to exist.
The greatest problem identified in recruiting and retaining volunteer emergency services personnel is time demands placed on volunteers. These demands come in the form of required training, family and job obligations, and increased call volume. High public expectations of volunteer fire department services and a general attitude of apathy toward volunteer departments contribute to the problem. Lack of full funding support causes volunteers to have to spend large amounts of time raising money to pay for their department operational costs, adding to the time demands. Some personal issues such as the physical and emotional aspects of being an emergency services volunteer or a lack of skills confidence are important issues, but not overwhelming. Combined, these factors result in fewer volunteers doing more of the work necessary to provide effective emergency services. As prospective volunteers see the burden imposed on existing fire department members they soon realize they don't have the time or interest to become a volunteer member. As existing volunteers burn out from time demands and workload, a cycle is created that puts a greater burden on those remaining and will eventually doom the volunteer fire service as we know it today. Ineffective leadership also contributes to loss of department members.
The public needs to be aware of the benefits they receive from volunteer fire departments The alternative is either no fire protection or first-in emergency medical service, or an expensive career fire protection service.
The Task Force developed a series of short and long range recommendations. Some can be implemented now, but some will take further planning to assure continued benefits. Some recommendations can be put in place by individual departments and others might be more effective on a regional basis. The short range recommendations are:
- Develop a uniform recruitment program
- Promote individual and department recognition/public awareness programs
- Provide leadership programs for fire department officers
- Institute strategic planning programs
- Revise membership policy concerning residency requirements
- Develop capital equipment replacement plans
- Institute mutual-assistance response and consider use of existing County specialized teams for manpower
- Maintain and accommodate existing manpower
A number of recommendations will require in-depth study as part of a long range planning process. Some will necessitate interaction with other fire departments or local municipal officials. Most will require periodic review and occasional "fine tuning" to assure their effectiveness. The time factor to implementation will vary with the complexity of the recommendation. The long range recommendations are:
- Work toward full operational funding from municipal sources
- Develop an equipment utilization plan
- Set up a central purchasing program
- Provide volunteer member incentives
- Prepare a plan for the future
Volunteer fire departments need to operate as a business; being proactive rather than reactive, planning for the future instead of relying on tradition, and being innovative rather than accepting the status quo. They need to improve public awareness and develop working relationships with local municipal officials.
In order to assure sufficient support to fire departments who take advantage of recommendations offered in this report, the Task Force needs to continue it's role, in conjunction with the Emergency Management Office, in reviewing and evaluating the progress of recruitment and retention efforts and other recommended actions.
"There is no greater value for public tax dollars than the services provided by volunteer fire departments."
The members of the Task Force would like to thank the Volunteer Fire Service for the time spent completing questionnaires and taking part in interviews. Without this assistance, this report would not have been possible.