By George Davenport, FASNY Recruitment and Retention Committee Chair
Call it whatever you want: onboarding, mentoring, orientation, etc. This is a critical component to growing your membership. First, let’s revisit what we have done in the past to introduce new recruits to our department and examine what has worked and what hasn’t. Keep what you feel has been successful and consider some new concepts.
One consideration for every department may be to enlist the commitment and support of both the fire chief and association president. The leaders on the line side and membership side must show the new recruits how important they are to the department. When the “leaders at the top” make the recruit aware of their important role in the organization, it will help their assimilation into the established brother/sisterhood where most are already “buddy buddy.” These leaders must identify others who will follow up, invite, encourage and welcome the new member. In the event that you opt for a mentoring program, it is critical that there be someone assigned to assure that the mentor is performing their assigned task.
Let’s begin by agreeing to contact the new member, at least initially, once a week. From the onset, assign a current member who may already know the person or be of a similar age. Be positive and enthusiastic and have the objective of getting them involved. Make sure they are aware of happenings in the next two or three weeks: What time are the meetings and drills; what are the drill topics (in laymen terms); inform them of other activities that will help them feel included (kidding around after drills and meetings, etc.).
In speaking with a veteran firefighter after a county fire meeting, he asked for some ideas about how to bring new members into the “club” and expressed another concern about how to retain them. He is a “veteran” member and recognizes the need for younger members and the importance of building the brother/sisterhood culture among all members. As an individual, he has made a commitment to make the new members feel welcome. He helps to prepare them for their firefighter class by going over some of the acronyms that may be “thrown” out in the class. In addition, he schedules meetings with them reviewing different pieces of equipment, explaining how it is used and alternatives should it not be available. He expressed a concern about getting members who are of a similar age and have many of the same interests.
Recognize the fire station environment. We’ve been a member for some time, have our friendship groups, know others by name and, of course, blow off steam. There are physical challenges like big equipment in a restricted space, radios blaring and members using all the fire service acronyms that will be a foreign language to the new member.
Establish an orientation program and related calendar so everyone can establish their personal calendar, which will produce better attendance. What might an orientation program include?
• A get-together over food or other refreshments. Have name tags so a name can be related to a face. All officers should be present and other members invited. This is an opportunity to begin building the fellowship. Sharing our history and heritage will be very insightful. This might last an hour and a half and include a thorough walk through the station, brief explanation of each piece of equipment and focus on individual safety.
• Session 2 will focus on completing any additional paperwork and other administrative details. Give them an overview of what they will be doing for their training and when.
Would your department consider a “New Mentor Program”? If done properly, it requires committing to a defined process from adopting mentor standards, coaching with suggestions as well as understanding the philosophy and benefits of mentoring.
If you opt to do a mentoring program, there are some critical elements to consider for a mentor:
• Who is the officer that is going to oversee the program?
• Recruit members who want to help, are willing to give extra time, and are self-starters.
• The mentor must have the personal knowledge to help the new member understand the skills and explain the time commitment needed, especially for training.
• The mentor will also need to shadow the recruit, making sure they are performing duties safely and correctly.
• Through the whole process, encourage their participation outside the training. For instance, shoot darts, play basketball or do other activities that members do around your fire station.
Your challenge is first to contact the new member and make arrangements for a day, date and time to meet at the fire station.
Reflect back and remember what it was like when you joined. Be there early to meet and introduce the member to others (do you all wear name tags?). Make sure that the recruit knows some key players who will also be helping them to get on board.
Help them to understand that while all these people are now strangers, they will soon become friends and brothers and sisters in fire service, which will become a strong and lasting bond. It is now your duty to track this person to make sure they are coming to events and continue to feel included.
Wow, this is a lot of planning and work! This investment will produce not only new members who will serve your department for years, but it will also establish a deeper commitment to the organization in your current members.
What is being described involves much detail and implementing a philosophy different than that most of us considered in the past. It’s up to each of you how you proceed and the investment you are willing to make.