Getting Volunteers Through the Door

Brentwood Legion Ambulance finds innovative ways to recruit new members

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Like many departments across the country, the Brentwood Legion Ambulance Service, Long Island, NY, has had to focus more attention in recent years on finding ways to recruit and retain enough members for its largely volunteer department.

As a volunteer in the department for nearly 20 years, David Olsen, vice president/chief of operations, has seen changes gradually take place over the course of two decades. "Recruitment has especially changed over the past 10 years," he says. "An adequate number of volunteers used to just come to us. Call volumes were low enough that we could handle them with the people we had. There was really no need to actively go out and recruit. However, economic times have changed (both parents typically work) and call volumes have gone up (progressively each year). About five years ago, we realized we needed to recruit and we put a program in place."

EMS World recently interviewed Olsen about the department's recruitment program:

Why is recruitment such a critical issue for your department?

Long Island has a high cost of living. Typically, both parents work, sometimes at multiple jobs. People just don't have a lot of time to volunteer. We are especially short of volunteers Monday through Friday when most people are at work and not available to respond.

Currently we have an adequate number of volunteers, at about 200, to handle the call volume. But we need to ensure we retain that number. If we stop recruiting and drawing people in, as volunteers leave or realize their lives have changed and they don't have enough time to volunteer, there's no one to replace them. If you don't pay attention, by the time you realize numbers have faded, you can find yourself in a deficit.

How did you go about developing a recruitment campaign?

We started by developing a recruitment committee made up of volunteers who have been willing to give time in addition to answering calls. Members were tasked with finding new ways to bring people in.

They are also in charge of following up with applicants and maintaining a dialog with them. Ten years ago we would have just taken their contact information and filed it until we needed a volunteer, who by that time, may not even be interested anymore. Now we maintain communication with applicants to maintain interest. We run organized groups of training so there can be a wait until the next available training session. But we offer ride alongs, classes, etc. to keep their interest while they're waiting. We let them know the schedule so they know what to work toward. There's more structure to the process.

What are the components of your campaign?

One aspect is reaching out to local community groups, such as Lions Clubs, Rotary Clubs and cultural organizations by offering classes in CPR, first aid, etc. at our headquarters. We focus on these groups because their members are already community minded. We offer the classes at our headquarters because we have found that one of the biggest roadblocks that prevents people from joining our department is intimidation of the building itself, so one emphasis of our recruitment program is finding ways to get people to come through the doors. If we can get them onto the property and expose them to the environment -- a lot of times we get a call or sometimes multiple calls -- it brings attention to what we do and how they can help.

Once we get them through the doors, we need to follow through. In the past, we had some issues with getting people in, then losing interest because nothing happened. They left because they weren't getting what they needed. We now have guidelines and structure so they know what to expect. They know when they're getting training. They know when they'll start riding in the ambulance.

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