Central Whidbey Island Fire and Rescue is not only geared up to fight fires, but now also has new gadgets to recruit and retain volunteers.
Training Capt. Jerry Helm showed off his new purchases of items such as a tent, iPads, TV monitors, signs of all shapes and sizes and a trailer to carry it all in at a recent fire commissioners meeting. Everything was purchased with a grant from the International Association of Fire Chiefs, awarded to the district in 2016.
“These are just the tools, now we have to actually put in the work and use these tools,” Helm said as commissioners viewed the tents and pop-up displays.
He said his first chance to use the booth and indoor signage will be a job fair at Coupeville High School in November. Helm said he hopes to use the new cell-phone charging station to attract people into the tent.
The TVs and iPads purchased with the grant funds are meant to help both staff and volunteers.
The devices and the volunteers’ personal cell phones all have an app called IamResponding, which shows real-time information about calls coming from dispatch.
Over the app, more detailed notes can be added than would typically be given over the radio, Helm said. The volunteers can look at the calls and indicate they are on their way. This means both people at the station or the ones first at the scene will know who is on their way.
The app also provides GPS directions to help responders get to the call.
“It allows us to keep our members informed,” Helm said. “When you have an informed member, you have an engaged member.”
The district is in the last year of the grant, which is part of a pilot program to study marketing techniques for attracting and keeping volunteers. Central Whidbey Fire was one of 10 volunteer fire districts in the nation selected for the program.
Helm meets with the other districts to talk about methods that have been successful and what hasn’t.
“They want to know what kind of marketing is working and what isn’t,” he said.
The district currently has 26 volunteers. In the last few years, the district has added roles and changed how volunteers can contribute to accommodate the aging demographic of the area.
Although Helm said some of the efforts are around getting younger recruits, the district added positions such as a water tender driver so that older volunteers could select narrower roles.
“Instead of trying to fit our population for our categories,” Helm said, “we changed our categories for our population.”