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EMS volunteer recruitment never stops

Remove obstacles, follow through and invite people to become part of a caring and dedicated community organization

These are the most common reasons I hear for the dwindling pool of EMS volunteers.

  • “We’ve tried everything. Nothing works”
  • “We advertise, but no one responds. We have open houses, and few people even show up.”
  • “People just don’t have that volunteer spirit anymore.”
  • “People don’t have the time to volunteer.”
  • “Most people can’t afford to volunteer. There are way too many education requirements these days.”

Are these reasons accurate? Or are they assumptions and excuses?

Many volunteer EMS agencies do a horrible job of promoting their organizations, preparing for the future and operating as a real business with ongoing personnel needs. The following are statements sent to me by people who tried to join their local volunteer EMS company:

  • “I called two or three times, but no one ever called me back. I guess they don’t need any more people.”
  • “The website says to fill out an application and drop it off at headquarters, but nobody is ever there. And there are no contact numbers. Obviously they don’t really care about getting new members.”
  • “I’m a full-time paid EMT, FTO, CPR instructor, and EVOC instructor for a big ambulance company. I wanted to give back to my community, so I applied to my local volunteer agency. The volunteers expected me to spend six months as a third rider “probationary member” and would not even allow me to drive! They only run about 500 calls a year. Their policies and politics are too ridiculous for me to waste my time with.”

Volunteer recruitment never ends

Don’t wait for people to come to you. Go to them. Be out in the community and stage the ambulance in the places where the people you want to recruit as members are likely to be, at the hours they have free time.

Create a calendar of places and times where the ambulance crew will be and keep it updated on your website and Facebook page: “Anywhere Volunteer Ambulance will be at the Piggly Wiggly on Main Street from 9 a.m. till noon. Please stop by to meet your local EMTs, tour the ambulance and get free information about your health and safety.”

These are potential places to find and recruit members:

  • Schools. Schedule a “show and tell” for elementary school children. Send them home with a coloring book, and brochures to show their parents. Stage a crew at after-school sporting events. Get out of the truck and talk to people.
  • Local grocery stores. On weekends you will meet people who likely have a Monday-to-Friday job. Posting at the grocery store at noon on a weekday will likely be a much different group.
  • Local events. Farmers’ markets, car shows, political events, town-wide tag sales, and holiday fairs bring out community-minded citizens.
  • Town Hall. Attend meetings and not just the meetings involving EMS/FD issues.
  • Recreational areas. Boat launches, parks, beaches, athletic fields, even public golf courses are places to find people with free time.
  • Your ambulance. Keep a folder with your brochures, business cards and educational handouts such as CPR instructions or phone information at all times.

Remove obstacles

One of the simplest ways to improve your recruitment program is to remove or minimize obstacles in the application process, policy and bylaws, and to eliminate membership committees. Practices should be reflective of a professional business environment, not a private club. Keep the process simple, efficient, and welcoming.

Assign or hire a dedicated recruiter, preferably someone with business or human resources experience. Make sure their contact information and email is posted at your headquarters (inside and outside). Answer all recruit inquiries within 48 hours or less. Anticipate questions, have positive and honest answers ready and budget the time to answer them fully. Keep track of questions to create a set of FAQs to post on your department’s Facebook page.

Encourage recruits to take a ride along, but after your department creates a patient privacy/HIPAA tutorial, liability waiver and dress code. Seeing your members in action, caring for their neighbors is a compelling experience.

Once questions are answered and a ride along is complete set a firm date for a follow-up call or meeting.

This is not the time to fill out applications. This is the “first date”. Learn more about each other before you talk about commitment or ask for an application. “It was not what I expected” is a common reason given by those who quickly leave a volunteer service. A brief, but compelling story that reflects how even the most basic, everyday EMS calls can be rewarding will paint a realistic picture for your potential recruit and avoid an early separation.

Follow through

During your follow-up call or meeting, make your agency’s needs clear. Volunteering as an EMS provider requires a serious commitment though that commitment does not have to be every free hour. Be ready to discuss the costs and time commitments involved in being an EMS volunteer. Have a list of upcoming CPR and EMT classes available, including any financial aid or scholarships available to volunteer members.

Extend an invitation

Once your candidate has decided they are ready for EMS, extend a formal invitation to join your service. It is important for the new member to feel a sense of accomplishment and honor at being invited and to know that the other members are excited.

If they accept the invitation this is the point to formalize their membership with paperwork that meets local and state regulatory requirements. While that is underway get new members involved right away and keep them engaged. It is critical not to lose momentum at this point.

Yes, this is a lot of work. It is not easy to find and develop the right people to lead your volunteer agency successfully into the future, but the effort is energy well spent.

We want to see photos of your recruitment efforts. Show others where and how you are finding the personnel to keep your agency successful now and into the future.

Nancy Magee combines a business woman’s perspective on marketing, efficiency and customer service with an EMS volunteer’s heart. Nancy, a Connecticut native, now resides in Louisiana and offers her Volunteer Survival Series workshops and consulting services through MEDIC Training Solutions to agencies across the country. Contact Nancy at
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