Ministry of the
Solicitor General

OFM - 04-84-13

Volunteer Fire Service Personnel Recruitment and Retention

Public Fire Safety Guidelines

Subject Coding

PFSG 04-84-13


Fire Administration


October 2006


Volunteer Fire Service Personnel Recruitment and Retention


Under Review


Scope and Application:
This guideline provides municipal officials and fire chiefs of volunteer and composite fire services with a general overview of principles to consider in the recruitment and retention of volunteers.
There are many factors that contribute to the success of a volunteer recruitment and retention program. These include implementing organized marketing, recruitment, selection, hiring, training and retention plans.
Establishing and following a formal recruitment and retention program offers fire services the opportunity to increase the likelihood of finding, and keeping, the right people, doing the right tasks, at the right time.


Definition of Volunteer:
According to the Fire Protection and Prevention Act 1997, a volunteer firefighter is defined as “a firefighter who provides fire protection services either voluntarily or for a nominal consideration, honorarium, training or activity allowance. (“pompier volontaire”) 1997, c. 4, s. 1 (1); 2001, c. 25, s. 475 (1).”
The majority of fire departments in Ontario utilize the services of volunteer fire service personnel. Recognized for their commitment and generosity, saving residents in Ontario more than an estimated one billion dollars annually, these professionals strive to provide skilled, competent and caring service.
Fire Services that rely on volunteers to comprise, or enhance, their staffing capability continue to face the challenge of recruiting and retaining a sufficient number of capable and experienced personnel.
This impacts on the effective, efficient, safe and timely delivery of fire protection services. Considering that 450 of the 478 municipal fire departments in Ontario rely on volunteers, this effect is felt throughout the entire province.

Recruitment and Retention Program:

Recruitment and Retention Program
The Benefits

A coordinated, organized program demonstrates:

  • How seriously the leadership takes the services provided and the individuals who provide that service,
  • Sound risk management principles,
  • Proactive vs. reactive leadership within the department, and
  • Leadership’s commitment to recognize volunteers, families and employers who support volunteerism.

It identifies:

  • Shortfalls and availability of volunteers in the community and,
  • The number, type and quality of volunteers required to meet current or future needs.

It allows planning for:

  • Recruitment and selection,
  • Retention and succession, and
  • Training and development of volunteers.

Responsibility for Recruitment
Recruiting and retaining volunteers does take effort. Creating a committee within the municipality and assigning specific tasks can create opportunities for others besides the leadership to contribute to the growth of the fire service and allows for a more concentrated effort.

Annual Recruitment and Retention Plan
An annual recruitment and retention plan is a cyclic, ongoing process that will assist the fires service in planning and focusing its efforts. It should be a logical consideration of the time of the year, changing commitments throughout the seasons, weather, and psychological impact of seasons, milestones in the department, annual events and other trends. This will prevent the department from coming up short in membership by not having good candidates to replace those leaving.

drawing of the cyclic, ongoing process of the annual recruitment and retention plan
Policies and Guidelines

Fire service leaders benefit from having the necessary policies and procedures to ensure a safe, lawful, organized, empowering, nondiscriminatory environment for their volunteers. No matter how large or small a department, policies and operating guidelines are essential management tools that set the standard for conduct and provide guidance for action. It is suggested that existing municipal policies, if available, be referenced.

Evaluation of the recruitment and retention program is necessary to identify strengths and areas to improve. It is an ongoing process that is built into all the components of the program.

Components in the Recruitment and Retention Cycle

Prior to recruiting, it would be beneficial to conduct a needs assessment to determine the role and number of volunteers required. Completing a Community Profile will determine community members who may best fit those roles. Answering these questions prior to recruiting enables the fire services to target specific individuals for specific roles and may increase the chance of success.

In order to promote diversity and involve volunteers with different skill sets, knowledge and perspectives, more than one recruitment method is necessary. Regardless of the method and knowing the department is seeking the best possible candidates, effective marketing and communication strategies are necessary to draw the interest of potential volunteers.

Selection and Hiring
Once received and acknowledged, all applicants require screening to determine those who will move on to the next step in the hiring process.

The Fire Service takes great pride in service to communities. A screening process is essential in order demonstrate that the volunteers serve in the community’s best interest. The leadership will have to decide which screening methods and tools are appropriate for their department and should ensure that they reflect human rights and privacy legislation and existing municipal policies.

Upon selection, a written agreement between the volunteer and the fire department will ensure that expectations and responsibilities for each side are clearly identified and agreed to.

Orientation and Probation
Fire departments and their volunteers will benefit from having an organized system to orient, train and advance recruits. One of the most successful and safe approaches for developing volunteers and establishing a commitment is to initially offer specific tasks that allow them to become involved in a limited way, followed by opportunities to grow into a role with more responsibilities.

Ongoing Recruitment Efforts
Successful recruitment efforts should be ongoing throughout the year in order to ensure that there is a waiting list of interested individuals to draw from.

Ongoing Retention Efforts
Recruiting and training new volunteers is just the beginning. The long-term challenge is to create an environment in which individuals continue to be motivated, interested, challenged, supported and satisfied with the work they’ve accomplished. Factors that contribute to this environment include leadership practices, operating guidelines, recognition initiatives, support efforts, teamwork and fellowship.

Exit Processes
When an individual leaves the fire department, it is a good opportunity to solicit input to determine the department’s strengths and opportunities for improvement. Exit processes should reflect understanding that, whether leaving on a positive or negative note, the volunteer and the fire department deserve fair and respectful treatment.

Resource Book:
The Application of Recruitment and Retention Principles:

The Volunteer Recruitment and Retention Resource Book that supports this guideline, was developed by the Ontario Fire Marshal’s Office, in collaboration with representatives from the Ontario Fire Service.
This resource describes effective practices and strategies for recruitment and retention of volunteer fire service personnel. It also provides a compilation of tools and templates that can be used to support the best practice or strategy. These may be photocopied or edited to meet the needs of the individual fire service.
A CD-ROM and printed copy of this resource has been made available to all Fire Services that maintain a volunteer complement. It can also be accessed and downloaded from the Ontario Fire Marshal’s public access website

Codes, Standards & Best Practices:

Codes, standards and best practices resources are available to assist in establishing local policy. All are available at
Volunteer Resource Management
The following resources and links describe effective practices and strategies for Volunteer Resource Management. The principles and topics can be applied to the fire service.

Please feel free to copy and distribute this document. We ask that the document not be altered in any way, that the Office of the Fire Marshal be credited and that the documents be used for non-commercial purposes only.

Additional References:

See also:
Office of the Fire Marshal’s Public Fire Safety Guidelines

The following guidelines can be referenced when conducting a needs assessment to determine the role, quantity and characteristics of volunteers required by the fire service.
04-08A-03 Optimizing Rural Emergency Response
04-12-13 Core Services (Response and Support) and Associated Guidelines
04-40A-03 Simplified Risk Assessment