Fitness Programming as a Recruitment and Retention Incentive

Volunteer Fire Department Staffing: Fitness Programming as a Recruitment and Retention Incentive

By Richard C. Kline

Crafting for the NVFC

The volunteer fire company is a crucial countrywide useful resource. Powerful neighborhood fire safety is dependent on the skill of fireplace departments to recruit and keep community members to serve as volunteer firefighters. It is not, nevertheless, a procedure devoid of constraints. Most contemporary volunteer fireplace departments would level firefighter recruitment and retention as a important obstacle they face.

Though volunteers make up 65% of the U.S. fireplace company, the Countrywide Hearth Defense Affiliation stories that the number of volunteer firefighters strike the cheapest variety on document in 2020. Understaffed fireplace departments leave communities at enhanced threat, specially small-city and rural communities that count just about totally on volunteers.

In an work to recruit and keep firefighters, numerous volunteer hearth and EMS departments nationally have turned to innovative procedures to boost office staffing ranges. The use of incentives is 1 system that is extensively made use of in just the American volunteer fire service. A volunteer incentive plan operates to encourage and stimulate recent employees to remain with the business when serving to catch the attention of prospective new users to the office. They can arrive in the form of both tangible and non-tangible “rewards,” this kind of as employee recognition applications, childcare, reward vouchers, tuition reimbursement, cash bonuses, and professional growth possibilities.

Significantly lacking from the normal menu of incentives is the use of wellbeing and physical fitness programming as an enticement to serve. This is various from the non-public sector, wherever health and fitness and physical fitness packages are touted as a profit meant to promote a healthful workforce, reveal worth and caring for the workforce, improve the employee experience, and develop a competitive edge for the group, serving to attract new expertise to the organization.

In the drop of 2022, a tiny-scale examine was carried out to much better determine the affect that wellbeing and conditioning programming may perhaps have on the recruitment and retention of volunteer firefighters. The central query the review sought to deal with was: Can hearth division sponsored, on-website overall health and physical fitness courses act as an incentive to keep existing associates and attract new firefighters? 

A 14-dilemma survey was dispersed through the Countrywide Volunteer Hearth Council’s (NVFC) Volunteer Voices discussion board, the Chester County (PA) Fireplace Chiefs Affiliation, Capstone General public Sector Options, and distributed to 4 Minnesota volunteer hearth departments. A person hundred and forty-one particular volunteer fire and EMS section customers responded to the questionnaire.

The Study

To assure a clear and shared knowledge of fitness programming, individuals were furnished the pursuing definitions.

Informal Physical fitness Software: An on-internet site, devoted region with fitness tools, without having formal instruction, oversight, and construction.

Formal Health and fitness Application: An deliberately-created program built to make improvements to the bodily effectiveness of contributors. Conditioning assessments, supervision, instruction, management, and on-web-site, focused workout place with gear are aspects of a formal program. Programming is supplied free of cost to the associates.

Wellness and Well being Method: Section-sponsored and provided wellness instruction built to tell, greatly enhance, and boost healthful existence. May well involve wellness coaching, overall health promotion, and disease avoidance introduced in differing formats, i.e., in-human being, literature, digital, etc.

The vast majority of respondents determined as male, with 47% reporting their tenure as -10 decades and 41% reporting their age as in excess of 50.

When questioned if their office offered a official application, 97% mentioned that their division did not offer you an deliberately planned and structured exercise system. On the other hand, 86% indicated that they would profit from a department-sponsored physical fitness software if made available. Most respondents felt that their own overall health and physical fitness are significant for their work as a firefighter. Still even though most stated they continue being “active” on a weekly basis, 57% said that they do not belong to a personal wellness and physical fitness middle.

When questioned if they would be supportive of a section-sponsored health and fitness application, 82% indicated of course, but several observed that they would be fearful of formal programming if:

  • The system was price prohibitive (12%)
  • The method necessary required participation (10%)
  • They felt they would be judged or embarrassed (7%)
  • They may get damage (4%)
  • Fearful of office course (7%)

Centered on survey feedback, departments might contemplate starting to be the wellbeing and physical fitness facility of decision for their customers, due to the fact most of the respondents feel their well being is significant and most do not belong to a official fitness facility. By supplying this incentive, not only is the organization investing in the health of its associates, but it is also making mutually rewarding interactions by garnering a renewed interest in the department whilst supporting the response ability of the membership.   

The survey also highlighted the big difference concerning casual and formal physical fitness programs. A vast majority of study respondents (64%) indicated their section has an informal exercise method consisting of exercising tools in which members can do the job out on their very own. Having said that, various respondents indicated that this function is frivolously applied or else interested pale just after the original roll-out of products.

Formalizing the health and fitness initiative delivers several strengths, including:

  • The company retains control of plan features, presenting versatility to control the program to fulfill the preferred targets
  • Monitoring system progress is made much easier with a gradual implementation strategy
  • Will help comprise price tag and forecast long term funding requirements
  • Permits for a graduated style and design and plan advancement technique
  • Resource allocation centered upon program plans is attained
  • Permits programming primarily based on chance stratification and
  • Fosters software acceptance.

Numerous nicely-intentioned “programs” fall short to improve staff well being simply thanks to indifferent leadership, inadequate method design, and absence-luster execution. Failed initiatives are normally seen as “just one more program” by the firefighters, with tiny acquire-in from individuals the method is meant to provide. A strategic scheduling solution to application structure is crucial to application acceptance and good results.

The Recruitment and Retention Tie-In

The staffing worries quite a few volunteer fireplace departments deal with are rooted in many aspects, such as the demanding requirements intrinsic to currently being a firefighter, shifting group demographics, economic force, life-style alter, enlargement of office products and services, and the raise in condition and federal training mandates. The time motivation departments call for of equally the volunteer firefighter—and, by extension their family—has a major impact on both equally recruitment and retention. A lot of people have less time to commit to their volunteer actions while an enhance in services and a reduce in membership might have lots of departments asking their volunteers to dedicate a lot more time.

The survey questioned two queries built to assess how a structured exercise program could impression the time commitment a volunteer is eager to give the office. The responses are furnished in parentheses.

To what degree would a division-sponsored, free of charge, on-web site fitness plan boost your dedication to your hearth division?

□  A lot  (31%)                    □  Slightly (42%)                                □  Not at All (28%)

To what diploma would a department-sponsored, totally free, on-web page conditioning system, that your rapid family members could use, increase your determination to your fireplace section?

□  A lot  (33%)                    □  Slightly (45%)                                □  Not at All  (23%)

These outcomes advise that firefighters watch a well being and conditioning plan as an incentive that would enhance their commitment to the agency.

The survey also asked two inquiries intended to assess firefighters’ views on how the availability of a section health and exercise system would influence the recruitment of new customers. The responses are mirrored in parentheses.

I imagine we could bring in far more likely volunteer firefighters if my division available no cost, on-site fitness courses.

□  Concur (67%)                                  □  Disagree (33%)

I truly feel a dedicated well being and physical fitness software could help attract new associates to my office.

                                 □  A large amount (31%)          □  Somewhat (53%)                              □  Not at All (15%)

Study respondents felt that their company could attract new talent if an on-web site well being and exercise method ended up offered. Fireplace departments are in levels of competition with other corporations to attract a diminishing foundation of prospective volunteers. People who demonstrate the positive aspects that their firm has about some others will be additional profitable in recruiting and retaining associates. Extra added benefits, these as offering formal well being and exercise programming, are key to increasing the corporation.

The Bottom Line

The adoption of a formal, hearth office-sponsored well being and fitness method functions to assistance a lifestyle that encourages inclusivity and teamwork, enhances the wellness of the workforce, reflects office values, and reduces disease and personal injury. Adeptly led, very well-intended wellness and physical fitness courses provide a concept to each prospective firefighter candidates and send out a apparent information to incumbent members that the firm cares for and values the health of the workforce.

The benefits of this analyze are encouraging, indicating a optimistic marriage between formal health and physical fitness systems and the affect on the recruitment and retention of volunteer firefighters. The adoption of formal overall health and health programming really should be considered to improve volunteer fireplace department staffing problems.


Nationwide Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC), Volunteer Firefighter Recruitment and Retention Formative Study Results, March 2015, p.3, Salter-Mitchell Inc.

Richard C. Kline, Hearth Chief (Ret), MS, EFO, CFO, is a 40-yr hearth services veteran. He not too long ago retired from the City of Plymouth (MN) Fire Office next 23 several years of provider as hearth chief. Kline layouts and presents health and conditioning programs for firefighters and their companies and could be contacted at [email protected].