Recruitment and Retention Award


Anyone who’s attended a volunteer fire service conference or association webinar recently has noticed that recruitment and retention is always at the top of the list.

According to the National Volunteer Fire Council, an increased demand on people’s time, longer commuting distances to and from work, the prevalence of two-income households, and greater training requirements are causing departments to struggle to attract younger members.

Like other volunteer departments across New York, the Snyder Fire Department, located in the Town of Amherst, has also experienced a dwindling number of volunteers to respond to more fire and EMS calls. The department currently has 70 members with an average member age of 52, which is not unlike the national average of an aging membership.

In 2020, to proactively address its future staffing needs, the department formed a recruitment and retention committee. The committee featured its second assistant chief (who is now the first assistant chief), a past chief who now serves as a safety officer, a lieutenant, a captain, and the corporate secretary.

Through weekly in-person and Zoom meetings, the recruitment and retention committee developed and implemented a four-part recruitment plan:

Phase 1: Membership Survey
Three confidential member surveys were drafted to better understand members’ concerns. Takeaways included a need for increased communication, greater flexibility in the department’s membership model (for retention), and more cross-functional leadership.

Phase 2: Communication
Survey results were shared with department leadership. Results were also distributed to members via email and at monthly meetings. This let members know their voices were being heard and that plans were being established and prioritized to address their concerns.

Phase 3: Event Opportunities
Since many members of the community do not know that Snyder FD is run by volunteers, the department began to spread this message and stress the need for new members. It organized recruitment events ranging from chicken BBQ fundraisers to open houses. It also hosted “Coffee with a Firefighter” events at the firehouse, where the community could come by, have a cup of coffee, take a station tour, and talk to firefighters about volunteering. It also partnered with the Town of Amherst on its Food Truck Rodeo at town parks to increase its presence in the community and spread the message of volunteering. Snyder FD displayed signage and handed out information regarding volunteering at all events.

Phase 4: Recruitment, Recruitment, Recruitment
To drive home the issue of active member recruitment, the department also developed a comprehensive plan that included:

  • Expanding residency boundaries for members by approximately one mile in each direction.
  • Establishing a duty shift program to help members better manage their work/family life.
  • Reworking its orientation program and creating a better organized and more methodical approach to onboarding.
  • Developing a mentorship program that pairs a new member with an experienced member.

Snyder FD’s recruitment and retention efforts have been tremendously successful. Having previously onboarded, on average, two members per year, it welcomed 21 new members from
January-December 2022. Five additional personnel have joined in 2023. Additionally, Snyder’s duty shift program has become a key retention tool, enabling the department to retain members on the cusp of leaving due to time constraints. Duty shift members have logged more than 6,800 hours of service.

“What started as simply trying to understand the issues developed into a multi-year, multi-faceted approach to both recruitment and retention challenges,” said Trish Hudson, a firefighter and EMT with the Snyder Fire Department. “Our recruitment committee is continuing to look for new and innovative ways to recruit and retain members, as well as opportunities for members to grow.”

Past Award Recipients

2022 Woodgate Volunteer Fire Department
2021 Stewart Manor Fire Department
2020 Chatham Fire Department
2019 Albertson Hook & Ladder Engine & Hose Co. No. 1