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Pandemic Impacts Volunteer Recruitment, Training at Local Fire Departments

The COVID-19 pandemic has created recruiting challenges for fire departments across Northern Kentucky.

According to Greg Schultz, recruiter and grants manager for the Alexandria Fire District, Covid has “definitely hampered” their ability to recruit and train new volunteers.

Getting the word out

“Covid-19 isn’t really holding back individuals,” he said. “As we are able to market the profession we find there is significant interest. Generally people just don’t understand our needs or how to be trained and involved. Marketing has become the absolute key to success.”

The pandemic has forced the district to depend “heavily” social media and technology, Schultz said.

“We do get referrals from firefighters that send family or friends to us,” Schultz said. “The high school guidance counselors are also getting information out to high school seniors and we plan to do virtual presentations with students that may have an interest. We will be doing zoom interviews due to Covid-19 restrictions.” 

Social distancing 

Schultz said they must protect staff in the station with social distancing, which means a limited number of volunteers in the station at one time. 

“We have found it necessary to reduce the number of staff in the building at any one time to ensure social distancing,” he said. “We are doing Zoom meetings and training is being offered virtually through numerous resources."

The district is staffed at five career firefighter/emergency technicians or firefighter/paramedics on each of their three shifts and are supplemented with three administrative staff and a contract recruiter/grants manager. 

Newly recruited volunteers are providing three additional staff to the career-on-duty. 

“We have had to limit the number of volunteers at any one time due to Covid-19. But we have also entered into an agreement with Southern Campbell and Northern Pendleton to share volunteers and provide those volunteers with an enhanced experience by serving at other departments,” Schultz said. 

Other commitments

Megan Bohman-Walter, volunteer recruitment and retention coordinator for Edgewood Fire and Emergency Medical Services, said recruiting during the pandemic has been unique. 

“We are still seeing the same, if not more, interest from the community in volunteering,” she said. “The challenges are training, since we can't meet in person and our area doesn't have enough resources to provide adequate firefighter training.”

Another challenge is that volunteers’ commitment to their regular employer has “drastically increased.”

“This effects what they're able to provide to us,” she said. “We do have several volunteers who have not been able to provide staffing since March because of this.”

Despite the challenges, recruitment has not been negatively impacted Bohman-Walter said.

“I believe this is because the type of people that want to be in this profession and the health care setting are aware of its risks and are prepared to overcome those challenges,” she said. “If you aren't willing to be exposed to something dangerous, something disturbing, even something that might scare you, this is not the place for you.”

Written by Melissa Reinert, RCN contributor

Photo provided

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