OCEAN CITY- Despite being hamstrung by the recent retirement of its recruitment coordinator, the Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company continues to make great strides in attracting new members and retaining those it already has.
During Tuesday’s work session, Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company President Jay Jester provided an overview of the department’s recruiting and retainment efforts. Two years ago, in the interest of reaching out to new potential active, associate and contributing members, the OCVFC partnered with the town on hiring a recruiting and retainment coordinator.
The new position, funded in the first two years by the fire company with the town’s contribution coming in the form of benefits, was created to address waning interest in the volunteer fire service. Volunteer fire companies across the region and beyond have been experiencing a drain on membership rolls in recent years and the Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company has not been immune to some degree.
When Jester first pitched the idea of hiring a retention and recruitment coordinator for the department in 2018, he said the volunteer company has a maximum membership number of 125 in the first-due response area and that number had steadily dwindled to around 77 active members, or about 67 percent of the ideal number.
To that end, the OCVFC decided to take a proactive approach to reversing the trend with the hiring of a retention and recruitment coordinator, who, as the title suggests, will seek new recruits for the volunteer company, but also manage the existing members to ensure they don’t drop off of the active rolls. According to the Jester’s presentation to the Mayor and Council on Tuesday, the proactive approach has achieved the desired results thus far.
The number of potential members interested in active service more than doubled from 13 in 2018 to 28 in 2019. Similarly, the number of potential members interested in associate memberships, or those who don’t live in the direct service area but interested in serving in a limited capacity increased from 67 in 2018 to 105 in 2019. In addition, the number of new cadets more than doubled from just seven in 2018 to 15 in 2019.
Alas, Jester told the Mayor and Council the recruitment and retainment coordinator hired in 2018 just last week resigned to seek a similar position elsewhere. While losing the position is a temporary setback, the fire company is continuing the initiatives the coordinator began.
“Our recruitment coordinator resigned last week and left us at a pretty delicate time,” he said. “We’re nearing the end of that two-year period where we decide to keep that going. We’re very much in favor of the program and we’re going to keep it going in the interim until we find a replacement.
Perhaps the biggest gain has come in the volunteer fire company’s live-in program. A total of 27 candidates showed interest in the live-in program in 2018, a number which grew to 63 in 2019. Jester said the program has grown by leaps and bounds and the challenge now is finding space for the potential candidates.
“We have two guys ready to move into headquarters and that will cover nine of the 10 beds,” he said. “We also have three to six that are coming back, so we’re now trying to figure out where we’re going to put these five extra people.”
A few years back, the Ocean City Fire Department established a program allowing certain qualified volunteer firefighters to live in the department’s firehouses free of charge. Live-in space in the firehouses is limited and available only to certified firefighters who are also students at nearby colleges and universities. Under the program, the firefighters live in the various quarters free of charge close to school and the beach and everything else Ocean City has to offer in exchange for working shifts in addition to their regular shift rotation.
“It was promised years ago the live-in program would be sustainable well into the future,” he said. “As you can see, the numbers are bearing that out.”
Jester said the fire company’s recruitment and retainment initiatives are being mimicked by other departments facing the same challenges.
“We’re really blazing a trail here,” he said. “There are a lot of people calling on us because of the work we’ve been doing to make sure the volunteer component of the fire department stays healthy for a lengthy period of time.”
Jester said that goes for many of the OCVFC’s allied departments around the county.
“All of the Worcester County fire departments are having issues just like we are,” he said. “They are looking to us for some of the things we’ve done that have been successful.”