The Art of Speed-Recruiting

Doyle Hose Co. 1 Fire-Recruiters Brian Sas, Colton Marinelli and Don Keuck engage students during career day at their local high school.

If you had just 30 seconds to convince someone why they should join your volunteer fire department, what would you say? 

What would your message be? Do you have a standard sales pitch that you use for just such occasions? Can you even say hello in 30 seconds? 

I recently had the opportunity to coach and practice some speed-recruiting exercises with the Doyle Hose Co. 1 in Cheektowaga NY. They had been invited to be a part of career day at the local high school in their response area and they invited me to join them. 

Each class of freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors came through the gymnasium, trying to connect with as many career opportunities as possible in just in 15 minutes. Their guidance counselors had coached them and given them a list of seven questions to ask of each recruiter regardless of the discipline they were representing. (Click or Google “Career Day Questions to Ask” for a list of sample questions kids might ask.) 

Doyle 1’s challenge was to identify, qualify and inform potential candidates as to why the volunteer fire service is right for them. Almost sounds like speed-dating, doesn’t it? 

So how do you connect with potentially 100 or more prospects in just 15 minutes? Let’s review some basic tips I’ve developed off my “Recruiter’s Cheat Sheet.” 

Know your audience: 

But don’t just know your audience, take that information and use it to determine who in your organization is best suited to do the recruiting. With no disrespect to our more experienced firefighters, does it really make sense to use retirees to recruit 16-year olds? Simply match the recruiters with the audience. 

One thing we’ve learned about Generation-Y is that they are the best people to recruit their peers, but look up to and trust those folks in the 30-40 year old demographic. Be prepared with answers to the questions they might ask. 

Secondly, you undoubtedly have the greatest firefighters that ever existed, in your department – but does that make them the best recruiters? Are your recruiters outgoing, engaging and outwardly friendly with a good attitude about your department? If not, recruit their replacements: Now. 

Doyle 1 created this two-sided post card to hand out at any public event. Image courtesy of

Are you capable of quickly articulating your core mission and both the requirements and benefits associated with being a volunteer firefighter? Are you intimately familiar with all of the volunteering opportunities your agency offers? You need to be. 

Know your competition: 

Who are you competing with and what do they have to offer? How do you compare in terms of requirements, benefits and being a “user-friendly” organization to join? If you think for a second that you’re not in competition with every other volunteering, social and career opportunity in your community, I have two words for you: Good Luck

Develop, know and rehearse your opening line: 

  •  Have you ever thought about joining the volunteer fire service?
  • You look like someone who likes helping people…
  • Did you know that firefighting isn’t for everyone, but volunteering can be?
  • Hey tough guy, try this gear on for size…

These aren’t necessarily the best lines, but they’re better than “Would you like a pen?” Regardless of what you choose as your opening act, it needs to hopefully elicit more than a one-word response to your question or statement. 

Eliminate barriers: 

Whether it’s a table, a chair or some other physical barrier between the prospect and you – get out in front of it or get it the heck out of the way. Look them in the eyes when you talk to them but don’t invade their “personal space” unless they invite you in by invading yours. Create a presence that is open and inviting, not stand-offish. Be interactive with gear and equipment, audio and visual stimuli and plenty of marketing materials to fit every audience. Your recruitment display and physical presence are the gateway into your organization. Ask yourself, what message is your presentation sending? 

Ask for the sale or move on: 

You don’t have long to give your pitch and determine if there’s any inkling of interest, or at least a sign of life in the prospect you’re recruiting. If you sense there is hope for furthering the conversation, “Ask for the sale” by at least prompting the prospect to give you some basic contact info so that you can follow up in the near future. And remember, just like in speed-dating, “No thanks” means “No thanks.” 

In this world of increasing time constraints, remember that they don’t have much time and you don’t either. You need to be able to move from Point-A to Point-B and from prospect-to-prospect effectively and in a timely manner. That’s not to say that your presentation should be so canned and rehearsed that you sound like a robot or a broken record. Be real. 

And, be sure to send them home with something that reminds them of the opportunities you offer. Doyle 1 does a great job with this, handing out pens, magnets, postcards and notepads with their recruitment theme smartly splashed all over everything. Ideas for giveaways are only limited by your imagination and your marketing budget. 

Relax, have fun and look and act like someone you would want to talk to. Body language can say more than spoken words. Be engaging, and if the prospect is someone worth continuing a conversation with, they’ll be engaging with you too. 

As I say in Tiger’s Top Ten Commandments for Recruitment and Retention: “When searching for the ultimate recruit – think of the person you would want to serve with … or be saved by. Then go out and get ‘em.” 

Whatever you do, don’t wait for them to come to you. 


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Chief Tiger SchmittendorfTiger Schmittendorf is chairman of FASNY’s Recruitment and Retention Committee and serves the County of Erie Department of Emergency Services (Buffalo NY) as Deputy Fire Coordinator. He created a recruitment effort that doubled his own fire department’s membership and helped net 525+ new volunteers countywide. A frequent presenter on the subjects of leadership, incident management, safety, recruitment and retention, he is a Nationally Certified Fire Instructor and has been a firefighter since 1980. Visit his blog at: and his clearinghouse for recruitment and retention resources: