Diversity of a Different Color

Prompted by the receipt of this month’s newsletter from Fire 20/20 — a non-profit organization focused on increasing diversity and providing solutions for the fire service — it reminded me that I’ve written several posts, comments and articles about the advantages of diversifying your volunteer fire service workforce. But, it doesn’t seem that too many folks are either getting the message, or they’re not willing to take the plunge to explore and implement a diversity program.

Many of those same volunteer firefighters complain that their existing members are overworked, or that existing and prospective members no longer have the time to satisfy the demands of being a volunteer in their fire company, or that their department struggles to meet its operational and other community goals.

As I forecasted in an article I wrote more than 10 years ago titled: “A New Pyramid Scheme for Your Volunteer Fire Department” — the time to diversify our workforce is now.

Just as the Backdraft character Bull grabs the movie’s main character by the shoulders and says: “… Steven, did you ever wonder why you’re stuck at &$#@%^* lieutenant for life?” — I ask the fire service: “Did you ever wonder why you just can’t keep up with the training, operational, administrative and human resources demands of running the business of delivering emergency services to your community?”

For those of you new to the arena, Fire Corps is part of a larger national outreach called Citizens Corps originally created by the administration of President G.W. Bush in an effort to create outlets for Americans to get engaged in community service after the tragic events of September 11, 2001.

Now promoted through the National Volunteer Fire Council (www.NVFC.org), Fire Corps means different things to different people, career or volunteer.

Regardless of its application, at its core, Fire Corps is a force multiplier, allowing active firefighters the opportunity to focus on what they’re best at: fighting fires and saving lives.

Take any given volunteer fire department and create a pie chart of how each member’s and the organization’s time, energy and finances are invested. I bet you’ll find that a significant (and growing) amount of time, energy and money are focused on a lot of stuff that has nothing to directly do with putting the wet stuff on the red stuff.

How many of your volunteers are pulling double duty on both the operational and administrative sides of your business? I’ll bet several of your members are creating budgets, managing finances, doing yard work, maintaining facilities and equipment, strategically planning, promoting, marketing and recruiting; fundraising, providing public education, cleaning, providing rehab and canteen services; painting, writing grants and, oh yea … when the alarm rings, they get on the truck and respond to your neighbor’s next emergency.

You can read more about Fire Corps on their web site or in my description depicted in “A New Pyramid Scheme…” — but here’s the thick and thin of it: Integrating non-emergency members into your emergency services workforce makes all of your members more efficient and effective.

Fire Corps members are capable of providing all the services that we emergency services providers didn’t sign up for. While some may argue that you can’t even replace every administrative function with a non-firefighter because of the need for root knowledge of what we do, the fact is that we can train non-responders to adequately perform many of the duties that are taking us active firefighters away from our core duties. And, I’ll bet you’ll find that these non-operational members are better educated, trained, experienced and suited to perform the critical functions necessary to keep a busy emergency services organization serving and protecting its community.

And, my strongest recommendation is that the first Fire Corps member you recruit is someone who has the human resources, organizational leadership and/or volunteer coordination experience to help you build a successful program.

Never intended to do just the “dirty work” of running a modern volunteer fire department, Fire Corps volunteers offer us the needed relief that we as individuals need to survive in the volunteer fire service, and thus can help the volunteer fire service survive and succeed.

Fire Corps = Force Multiplier. Look into it. Figure it out. Integrate this human relations solution into your organization.

You can build a better fire service. We can help.

@FireRECRUITER – Mutual Aid for Marketing Your Fire Department.