County Support for the ‘Firehouse Family’

A session at MACo’s Summer Conference explores the best methods for county governments to recruit and retain volunteers for fire companies which have seen dwindling numbers in recent years.

Carroll County Commissioner Steve Wantz, Maryland State Firemen’s Association Executive Director Kate Tomanelli, and Queen Anne’s County Fire & EMS Commission representative Tracey Johnston served as panelists in the MACo Summer Conference Session, Stoke the Fire: Volunteer Recruitment and Retention. Delegate Mike McKay of the House Appropriations Committee moderated the panel.

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Tracey Johnston of Queen Anne’s County Fire speaks about her county-wide approach to volunteer recruitment and retention at MACo’s Summer Conference. Maryland Delegate Mike McKay and Carroll County Commissioner President Steve Wantz also participated in the panel.

Commissioner Wantz provided the context of volunteer fire company shortages within the downward trend of volunteerism across all types of organizations nationwide. In the fire service, however, as compared with other groups, volunteers are asked to perform high-risk life-saving services. Wantz described how his county is moving toward a hybrid paid-volunteer service while still seeking ways to support volunteer service.

Tracey Johnston and other panelists shared recruitment and retention approaches including:

  • Low-interest loans
  • LOSAP enhancements (available at 55 years)
  • Property tax credits ($2,500)
  • WiFi subscriptions
  • Life insurance policy ($25,000)
  • VoTech program in high schools
  • Cadet programs in middle schools

The multi-faceted approach has been key to incremental success in Queen Anne’s, Tracey related.

MSFA Executive Director Kate Tomanelli and Tracey Johnston pointed to the need for a more coordinated approach to recruitment and retention – a task typically left to individual companies. County-wide programs lead by Johnston in Queen Anne’s have made a difference, and even at the State level, data gathering and partnership could be a help to all volunteer companies.

There are a range of volunteers needed, including firehouse IT support and financial services such as accounting. The challenge is in attracting volunteers in today’s world of dual-income families. Tomanelli and a video she shared spoke of helping volunteers find their ‘firehouse family.’

It is estimated that volunteer firefighters save Maryland taxpayers up to $8 billion per year.

Attendees and panelists urged the Maryland State Firemen’s Association to gather data on the effectiveness of certain volunteer recruitment and retention approaches, especially the implementation of the property tax credit. At this time, some information on recruitment needs is available on Marylandvolunteer.org.

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