New Recruiting Position Sparks Fire Company Interest

OCEAN CITY — While the sample size is fairly small, the hiring of a new recruitment and retainment coordinator for the Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company (OCVFC) appears to be achieving the desired results.

Last year, the OCVFC gained approval from the Mayor and Council to hire a recruitment and retainment coordinator. The OCVFC ultimately hired Christine Bennett, an experienced firefighter and EMT from New Castle County, Del., to fill the new position.

On Tuesday, OCVFC Assistant Chief Jay Jester presented to the Mayor and Council an overview of the first six months, or the second half of 2018, with the new recruitment and retainment coordinator. Volunteer fire companies across the region and beyond have been experiencing a drain on membership rolls in recent years and the OCVFC has not been immune to some degree.

The OCVFC has a maximum membership number of 125 in the first-due response area and that number had dwindled to around 77 active members, or about 67 percent of the ideal total at the time the new position was created. To that end, the OCVFC took a proactive approach to reversing that trend with the hiring of Bennett, who has been ramping up the company’s recruitment efforts and increasing its online and social media exposure since starting six months ago. As of this week, the number of OCVFC active members had increased to 81 from the 77 reported when the position was created.

Thus far, it appears her efforts are bearing fruit, at least from the amount of interest shown. For example, in the first six months of last year, one application for an active membership had been distributed and that number jumped to 12 in the last six months. There were 11 applications distributed for associate memberships prior to Bennett’s hiring and that number has since increased to 58.

There were two applications for new cadets distributed prior to the creation of the new position and five after. Similarly, there were eight applications for the company’s live-in program in the first half of last year and 19 in the second half. Finally, there were 12 applications for the ride-along program prior to Bennett’s hiring and 85 after.

Bennett has also overseen a significant jump in the company’s website and social media activity. For example, the OCVFC’s website had 41 new posts throughout the entire year in 2016 and just 11 in 2017. Last year, the OCVFC website had 77 new posts, four before Bennett was hired and 73 in the six months since she has been hired. Prior to the creation of the new position, the most visitors in one day to the OCVFC website was 12,166 and that number has jumped to 17,144 since.

Similar trends are bearing out with the company’s social media platforms. For example, in 2016 the OCVFC Facebook page had less than 15,000 followers and around 16,000 in 2017. In the last half of 2018, that number had increased to around 20,000. The number of messages, or interactions with the public, on Facebook also increased from 180 in the first half of 2018 to 266 in the second half when the new position was created.

According to Jester, the plans for the next six months include a recruitment video and an aggressive recruiting campaign, a firefighter discount incentive program wherein members can receive discounts at participating local businesses and the launch of a new website, for example. Jester said on Tuesday the new position is accomplishing what was anticipated.

“This is really bearing fruit,” he said. “It’s a shining example of the great partnership between the company and the city.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.