Beating the odds…a tale of one department

Beating the odds...a tale of one department

I often see many departments using recruiting tools like this one. Volunteer firefighting seems like it’s a dying breed and will be going the way of the dodo bird, or will it?

I recently traveled to Staunton, Virginia to pick up some donated equipment and had the pleasure of meeting Swoope Volunteer Fire Company Chief Kevin Wilkes. Chief Wilkes was fired up to meet us and be able to donate some used equipment to our cause. The more I got to speak with the chief, the more we talked about his department. I have to tell you, his department is quite impressive compared to others in our nation.

Chief Wilkes went on to tell me that out of the past 3 years, his department has only missed 3 calls total and the rest of the calls they have made had an average of 8 firefighters on the rigs. His department is 100% volunteer all the time. These number blew me away. Now, his department doesn’t do EMS transport, but does first respond to EMS calls with BLS & ALS providers.

Now I will say, this isn’t the first time Chief Wilkes has been featured for his department’s incredible success story. He was featured in a story by Station Pride in 2016 as well. You can read that article by clicking here.

We discussed how he was able to make all this possible and had some outstanding ideas. 

  1. Treat your members like family. Making the department a family atmosphere.
  2. A gas stipend. Volunteers can earn up to $275 every 6 months depending on how many calls they take during that time.
  3. Feed them. If they spend the night, the department pays for dinner.
  4. Make them feel special. If you look on their Facebook page, you will see annual awards videos and such. Chief Wilkes definitely recognizes his volunteers as much as he can.
  5. Education. One thing Chief Wilkes boasts about is the educational levels of his volunteers. Many are not only firefighter certified, but EMS certified too. They also have many who are seeking high education with a college degree too.

These are just a few I got from him while we were loading up the used equipment to be donated, but I have to tell you, Chief Wilkes is running an impressive department and is very humble about his tremendous accomplishments.

There are ways to solve this volunteer crisis, but it takes some out of the box thinking and some excellent leadership to accomplish it. The thing to remember is that you have to offer something to these men and women to leave their families and commit time to YOUR department/community. The days of people just volunteering to get out of the house are over, we need to make it a worthwhile venture for both the volunteer and the department. Do what makes sense for your department and community, but the small details sometimes are the best things that will attract those people you want on your department.

Until next time, stay safe and let’s be one another’s keeper.


About the Author: Nick Magoteaux is the Co-Executive Director and President of Brothers Helping Brothers. Nick has over 15 years of experience in public safety and is a student of the fire service. Nick has studied leadership extensively over the last few years and is always trying to find something new to introduce to his local fire service brothers.

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