Home Innovation Public Safety: Figuring Out the Retention Puzzle

Public Safety: Figuring Out the Retention Puzzle


By Allison G. S. Knox
Contributor, EDM Digest

Many towns and counties throughout the country staff their rescue squads and fire departments with willing volunteers from the community. For decades, this system has worked well as many people throughout the community have wanted to give back and to make a difference. Many towns and cities have historical photos of the first volunteer fire departments for their town and city and - in many cases - these departments were quite large.

In the last few years, however, many towns and cities throughout the United States have encountered major issues with volunteer retention. Some agencies have struggled to respond to calls while others have struggled to hold onto members.  One volunteer Emergency Medical Services (EMS) agency closed its doors due to a lack of funding. Another EMS agency closed its doors due to a lack of volunteers.

In many cases, town officials have voted to eliminate volunteer agencies because they have not been able to appropriately provide fire and emergency medical services care. As volunteers dry up, those in leadership positions are trying to figure out how to keep their membership base full.  Would specialized training help?

The Retention Dilemma

Numerous ambulance agencies throughout the country have had trouble keeping their ambulances staffed. It is difficult, at times, because volunteers need additional income and volunteer work - of course - does not pay. Volunteer agencies, however, need volunteers to staff their trucks. When they have fewer volunteers, it becomes difficult to maintain a budget with the town that would provide the additional resources an agency needs to attract more volunteers.

Additionally, it can be hard to staff an agency with good emergency medical technicians and paramedics when retention is already suffering. Thus, volunteer agencies are stuck in a conundrum of trying to recruit and retain volunteers for their agency.

Specialized Training

For a volunteer company struggling to maintain members, the thought of trying to increase a budget is a daunting idea; the agency simply may not have the support of their local government to do it. However, offering a specialized training program in swift water rescue, or other specialized areas, may be very beneficial to a volunteer agency. It may be the one thing that keeps volunteers flocking to the agency and improves retention.

Many volunteer agencies throughout the country are having a difficult time keeping members because of a variety of different factors. Because of this, it may be prudent for a volunteer agency to offer specialized training. It may be the very thing that keeps members coming in the doors.

Ultimately, volunteer ambulance companies must continue to initiate intriguing retention strategies to keep members staffing their trucks.

Allison G. S. Knox Passionate about the issues affecting ambulances and disaster management, Allison focuses on Emergency Management and Emergency Medical Services policy. Allison has taught at the undergraduate level since 2010. Prior to teaching, she worked in a level-one trauma center emergency department and for a member of Congress in Washington, D.C. She holds four master’s degrees in Emergency Management, National Security Studies, International Relations, and History; a Graduate Certificate in Homeland Security; and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. Allison is an Emergency Medical Technician, Lifeguard, and Lifeguard Instructor, and is trained in Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue. She serves on the Board of Trustees for Pi Gamma Mu International Honor Society as Chancellor of the Southeast Region, Vice Chair of the Tactical Emergency Medical Support Committee with the International Public Safety Association, and serves as the Advocacy Coordinator of Virginia with the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians. She is also a member of several committees including the Editorial Committee with APCO, the Rescue Task Force Committee with the International Public Safety Association, and the Advocacy Committee with the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians. She also serves as Chair of the Leadership Development Program for the 2020 Pi Gamma Mu Triennial Convention. Allison has published several book reviews and continues to write about issues affecting ambulances, emergency management, and homeland security.