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Federal grant will help with recruitment of volunteer firefighters

By Howard B. Owens

A grant of more than $288,000 has been awarded to Genesee County by FEMA as part of an nationwide effort to ensure volunteer fire departments remain adequately staffed to handle disasters and emergencies.

Called the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grant (SAFER), it has been awarded to a cooperative venture by Lake Plains Community Care Network, Genesee County Emergency Management Office, Genesee County Fire Advisory Board and the Genesee County Recruitment and Retention Task Force.

Funds will be used to address recruitment and retention challenges in the fire services locally with a goal to attract 320 new firefighters, as well as EMS, fire police and other roles, over the next four years.

The goal is to sign up 18 new members for each department in the county during that time, which would allow departments to address normal attrition rates and grow the volunteer force at the same time.

Funding will cover hiring a marketing firm to create a program to raise public awareness of the importance of volunteer fire departments and promote opportunities for people to get involved with their local departments.

Lake Plains will act as lead agency in administration of the grant.

Full press release after the jump:

The Lake Plains Community Care Network (LPCCN) in collaboration with the Genesee County Emergency Management Office (GCEMO), Genesee County Fire Advisory Board and the Genesee County Recruitment and Retention Task Force has been awarded The Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grant (SAFER) in the amount of $288,680 over a four year grant cycle.

The SAFER Grant was created to provide funding directly to fire departments and volunteer firefighter interest organizations in order to help them increase the number of trained, "front line" firefighters available in their communities.

This grant will help address the growing recruitment and retention challenges of the fire service in Genesee County. The goal of the recruitment plan is to attract and maintain 320 new firefighters over the next four years; an average of 18 new members for each department over the four year span. This rate of recruitment will allow County fire departments to induct, orient, outfit and train these individuals at an affordable and manageable pace. This systematic approach will allow the normal attrition rate to be addressed while achieving a positive net increase in volunteer staffing levels over the next four years and beyond.

Two primary themes have been established for the recruitment plan:

1. The first theme will focus on the physical, intellectual and compassion qualities sought in today’s volunteer. It will also include a clear, concise call to action and benefit statement.

2. The second theme will address the fact that many fire departments offer flexible opportunities other than just firefighting. Individuals can join specific departments as Fire/Rescue, EMS Only, Fire Police Only, or Associate members.

A key component for the success of the marketing plan involves the hiring of an outside Professional Marketing Company whose objectives would be to create greater public awareness as to the need for volunteers and the role of volunteer first responders; to promote the opportunities for the community to get involved and stay involved in the solution, and to support the overall goals of the recruitment and retention plans. 

According to the 2010 US Census data, Genesee County’s fire service protects 60,079 people over 502 square miles through their 17 volunteer fire departments. There are approximately 900 volunteer firefighters listed on the roles in Genesee County which averages approximately 52 active firefighters in each organization but only an average of 30 members per volunteer department are actually qualified to perform fire suppression.

The Lake Plains Community Care Network (LPCCN ) will act as the lead agency for the SAFER grant on behalf of all 17 volunteer departments and county government. LPCCN is a non-profit organization which promotes cooperation, preventative health education, and access to quality care in Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming Counties.

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