Whether it is a banner telling your municipality what you do, a press release during EMS Week or an article in the local newspaper following a particularly significant call, consistent advertising is critical. You would be surprised to learn how many citizens in your municipality don’t know what the local EMS service does, what its training level (ALS or BLS) is, or even if it is volunteer or career, until they need your services. It is your job to educate them, but keep the tone positive, not desperate. Remember that an element of volunteer recruitment is unquestionably linked to the overall issue of community support. People will typically not seek to join organizations they believe “stand on shaky legs” or have a poor reputation.
In the Real World
The techniques mentioned here are not merely theoretical—they are practical, as well. The Teaneck Volunteer Ambulance Corps (TVAC), an all-volunteer, BLS-level third-service EMS provider in the suburban township of Teaneck (population 40,000) located in Bergen County, NJ, has effectively used all of the aforementioned recruitment strategies. While some services in the area have transitioned to using paid personnel, or have been taken over by local hospital-based services or municipal fire departments, TVAC has not. In a testament to the efficacy of the techniques mentioned in this article, TVAC covers over 98% of its annual 3,400 emergency assignments, utilizing mutual aid units less than 2% of the time. TVAC takes in an average of 22 new members each year; approximately 70% of those graduate from probationary member to regular member. When the recruiting system outlined above replaced the membership committee in 1986, TVAC went from approximately 35 members to over 100 members in about a year and a half.
Effective recruitment is the lifeblood of volunteer EMS agencies. Recruiting new members, as well as retaining current members, is a year-round process. Implementation of the suggested techniques doesn’t require an advanced degree; it requires an understanding of your organization’s needs and the ability to attract new blood. Make a plan so that volunteer recruiting is an everyday, ingrained, semiautomatic process that will go on for the lifetime of the agency—preventing, instead of repairing, staffing shortages.
The challenge is for services to plan, sell and close the deal quickly when it comes to recruiting new members, while working to keep the current valuable volunteers, who can often be taken for granted. Supporting these members once they are in the door is just as vitally important.
Many people in EMS are convinced that the days of volunteer EMS are coming to a close in the U.S. This prophecy will come true if volunteer EMS agencies continue to follow the “we have always done it like this” route instead of concentrating on the true issues. Services must invest more time in planning for the future.
- Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Recruitment and Retention Manual. FEMA/USFA. Published October 1995. Available at www.usfa.fema.gov/applications/publications.
- EMS Agency Management Series: EMS Strategic Planning. Virginia Office of Emergency Medical Service. Published June 2001. Available at www.vdh.state.va.us/oems/Files_page/OEMS_general/Stategic%20Planning.pdf.
- Recruiting and Retaining EMS Volunteers Handbook. Published by Rural Health Resources. Available at www.ruralhealthresources.com.
Raphael M. Barishansky, MPH, is chief of public health emergency preparedness for Prince George's County (MD) Health Department. A frequent contributor to and editorial advisory board member of EMS World Magazine, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Larry J. Robertson, BA, EMT-B, is a private consultant primarily dealing with emergency communications devices. He is also past president, an active life member and PIO for the Teaneck Volunteer Ambulance Corps, in Teaneck, NJ.