Mesa FD Volunteer Program Gets Accolades
Monday, 30 November 2009
By Mary Rose Roberts, Fire Chief
The National Volunteer Fire Council has awarded the Mesa (Ariz.) Fire Department the 2009 Fire Corps Award of Excellence. The awards annually honor a Fire Corps program that exemplifies outstanding performance, according to the NVFC.
Deena Bolland is the fire- and life-safety administrator for the Mesa Fire Department. The department was recognized by the NVFC for a volunteer program established in 1998 that grew into several programs. One such program frees up fire crews who in the past addressed non-emergency calls and provided customer-service assistance. Now, volunteers take on the job, she said.
“Fire crews get dispatched to a call and many times they would be providing nonemergency assistance, which would then make them out of the area for awhile and their response time would get longer,” Bolland said. “Or, instead of firefighters getting into a service vehicle to help a stranded passenger, we would have these volunteers go out and provide assistance that would let the fire crews handle the emergency calls.”
It is one of several volunteer programs at the fire department, Bolland said. To educate citizens about volunteer opportunities, the department visits college campuses and does a recruitment fair. Fire personnel also visit senior centers to recruit retirees who want to give back to the community, Bolland said. In addition, there is an established public-relations campaign that includes press releases and posting updates on social media Web sites, including Facebook and Twitter.
“So anytime that we have a recruitment coming up or we need some additional volunteers we will send out tweets,” Bolland said. “I think we have a 1,000 signed up to a Twitter account right now.”
Bolland offered several suggestions to other departments that plan on developing a volunteer program. She first recommends analyzing the community’s needs. For the city of Mesa, personnel identified three different, high-risk populations: seniors, Hispanics and children. Volunteer programs are used to assist those high-risk groups, she said.
Next, look at the fire department’s needs. Are volunteers needed in the areas of public education or special events? Bolland suggested that departments recruit people interested in public speaking to fill those roles. Departments then need time to train and retain volunteers. To reward volunteers, the Mesa Fire Department holds an annual dinner for volunteers and gives out awards.
“Think about how to keep volunteers in the program,” Bolland said. “The volunteers give so much to us as far as their time, skills, knowledge and experience that we really need to try and provide them with something to make them want to stay with our program.”