Recruitment in the Fire Service: Understanding the Marketing Funnel

Finding and recruiting potential volunteers to a fire or EMS department is a multi-step process that requires dedication, follow-up and follow-through. A marketing funnel helps to identify and breakdown those steps. A department’s recruitment and retention tactics should aim to move potential recruits down this funnel to increase the likelihood of success.

The National Volunteer Fire Council’s (NVFC) new Make Me A Firefighter recruitment campaign helps departments do just that.

The Marketing Funnel

First it is important to understand the marketing funnel for volunteer recruitment.

Step 1: Interest

A national survey conducted as part of the NVFC’s recruitment and retention campaign revealed that 79 percent of those polled did not know if their local department was seeking volunteers and 41 percent were unsure if their department was volunteer, combination or career. Yet, 29 percent of respondents indicated an interest in volunteering as an emergency responder. That number was even higher among the highly sought-after 18- to 34-year-old age group, with 45 percent indicating an interest in volunteering as an emergency responder.* It’s difficult to foster interest or expect potential volunteers to take action when the majority are unaware of the need. Educating the public and raising awareness that your department utilizes volunteers and needs more volunteers is an important first step.

Step 2: Invite

Current recruits are almost always invited and effective invites are typically personal. Oftentimes, interested participants cite a lack of invitation as one reason they never considered becoming a volunteer emergency responder. Finding ways to reach target audiences and providing them with a specific invitation to join your department or learn more about the volunteer opportunities available is a key step in increasing your pool of potential volunteers.

Step 3: Sample

Interested individuals often get involved after having a chance to sample what it’s like to be a volunteer. Sampling activities such as ride-alongs, Explorer programs, open houses and other recruitment events can help interested individuals connect with departments and build the confidence and excitement that is needed to truly consider the opportunity. Be creative!

Step 4: Commit

At this stage in the marketing funnel, a potential recruit will have an opportunity to decide if they are willing or unwilling to commit to the department. Follow-up is key at this stage. Don’t let interested individuals fall through the cracks due to a lack of follow-through. Let them know they are wanted and that your department is a place they can belong.

Step 5: Train

Now it’s time to train your new recruits. Training is time-intensive and can be overwhelming. Offer flexibility whenever possible. It’s also a good idea to assign mentors to help new recruits acclimate and learn. Recruits that feel a personal connection to the department through a mentor program and/or bonding with other recruits through shared training experience are more likely to want to remain an active member. Feeling like part of the fire service family can help make the necessary hours of training feel less burdensome.

How the NVFC Can Help

The NVFC received a federal SAFER grant to implement the first national volunteer fire service recruitment campaign. Through the Make Me A Firefighter campaign, the NVFC has developed free, ready-to-use, customizable resources to help local fire and EMS departments get and keep new recruits. In addition, the organization is conducting national outreach to help raise awareness among the public of the need for volunteer firefighters.

Departments can register for free at From there, you can access tools to help with every step of the marketing funnel. Post your department’s volunteer opportunities in the national database and use readymade PSAs and customizable outreach materials to let your community know you need volunteers. Use the invitation generator to invite potential volunteers to recruitment events. Find ideas on sampling events you can hold in your community. Use the recruit tracking tool to monitor potential volunteers through every stage of the application process and ensure that you are following up when needed.

*Source: NVFC and Salter>Mitchell Survey of Americans 18+, Sept. 29-Oct. 1, 2014, n= 1,224