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Motivations of Member's in the Volunteer Fire service

The Chatham Fire Department is in the process of expanding its membership. In order to do so focus needs to be made on what drives member to join and to continue to perform the tasks that are given to them. The purpose of this project is to determine how to keep current members motivated and to provide direction for new members.

To accomplish this, descriptive research was conducted to answer the following questions.

1. How did members become involved in the fire service

2. What motivated members to begin

3. How much training do you get every year

4. Do you plan on moving up in the organization

5. How long have you been in the fire service

6. Do you feel well educated, safe and that you can do your job well with the training the department has given you

7. Do you feel like others in your department are well educated, safe and can do their jobs well with the training the department has given them

In an attempt to answer these questions, a survey was taken of members from an adjoining department. The content of the material gleaned from these methods follow, as well as discussion of the conclusions drawn and recommendations resulting.

To gain an understanding of the motivations of members of the Chatham fire department one must first understand the organization and its history.

The Chatham Fire department covers a first due call area of approximately 33 sq miles located within the heart or Pittsylvania County. This initial coverage area includes single family dwellings, multi tenant apartment complexes, educational facilities with dorm accommodations, light and dense commercial development, industry and wilderness areas and farmland. The second due coverage area spans the entire county. The population for the town of Chatham is aprox. 1500 residents, with another 65,000 throughout Pittsylvania County.

Chatham Fire Department sees an annual call average of 350 calls a year. These range from structure fires, MVA’s, brush/grass fires, to hazardous materials incidents. The department apparatus includes three Class A pumping apparatus, one 2000 gal water tender, a wild land urban interface quick attack truck, an ATV, and 102ft aerial apparatus. The leadership is composed of a Chief, Deputy Chief, Assistant Chief, Captains, Lutenants, and Safety Officers, In addition there is a Training officer.

History of the Chatham Fire Department

Formed in the early 1900’s the department has been entirely staffed by volunteer members. The department has seen significant changes to its structure, buildings and apparatus over the years. All in all the department has stayed very similar to its roots in the early days. The current chief is a member that has been elected to that position by the membership. Currently the chief is Landon Worsham. Mr. Worsham has been a constant in the department having been a member for over 50 years, with over 40 years as Chief.

A review of current literature was conducted to seek answers to the research questions The search included published articles, previously written research papers on volunteers available through the Learning Resource Center of the National Fire Academy, Internet sites and interviews with department members.

Despite the challenges of today, some volunteer fire departments still maintain strong membership because they have taken steps to adapt to today’s society and hectic schedules. “ People are willing to volunteer in the fire and rescue service provided the following are true: the experience is rewarding and worth their time, the training requirements are not excessive, the time demands are manageable, they feel valued, conflict is minimized” (Bush, Reade. Schaenman, Philip. Theil, Katherine (1998). Retention and Recruitment in the volunteer Fire service: Problems and Solutions. (Preface). National Volunteer council).

The Changing Dynamics of the Fire Service

First, one must recognize that even the very best departments are facing the problems of daytime availability, training requirements. Because of a change in our society, today’s volunteer fire service is in stiff completions for precious spare time that our potential volunteer firefighters have available. Many households are struggling to make ends meet with both parents working, some with two jobs. Most people today struggle with competing interests…. The amount of time available to devote to the fire service is very limited” (p.10) “ instead of denying that this is almost universally true, we should just acknowledge it and be grateful for the time that firefighters are able to give to our organizations” (p.10).
Training has always been important to the fire service; however it has also had a negative effect, in the sense that it has increased the time required to become a firefighter and to maintain certifications. “Higher Training Standards for both volunteer and career fire fighters has grown more formal and comprehensive in the past 30 years. National consensus training standards created…under the National Fire Protections Association… Increased both classroom and practical requirements” (Bush, Reade. Schaenman, Philip. Theil, Katherine (1998). Retention and Recruitment in the volunteer Fire service: Problems and Solutions. (Preface). National Volunteer council). What motivates people to become volunteer firefighters?

In researching what motivates people to become volunteer firefighters, one must ask what motivates people to become firefighters in the first place. Research on this aspect reveled the following results: “ In many communities, particularly small towns, the volunteer fire department has been a social center. Volunteer firefighters embody and represent the spirit of the community. They are often the centerpiece in the parades” (p.15)
The following is a statement from Division Chief Scholar of the Chico Fire Department, when questioned what motivates people to become volunteer firefighters: (Motivations of Volunteer Firefighters in combination departments. Silva, Josheph 2001)

“We find that a lot of our firefighters do not do it for the money, but for the camaraderie and the feeling of giving back to their community in the form of civic duty and civic pride, and some participate in firefighting for the challenges associated with firefighting and the variation from their regular job. On the east coast, they have much more peer pressure and you are almost expected to be part of the volunteer department as a social expectation. Also in a rual area there is a much greater sense of community.”

Fifteen members of the Danville Fire Department were asked a series of questions to gauge their background in the fire service. The questions asked ranged from their initial interest in the firefighting to the level of training they have received throughout their career.

When the members were asked how they first became interested in the fire service the majority responded that a friend or family member first gave them the idea to join the fire service. The driving motivation for most members was a strong desire to serve their community. Other factors were the 9/11 attacks on New York and DC, and the search for a lifelong career.

Many members have volunteer experience, with volunteer experience they found a love for this type of work and were motivated to expand their training. The hours of training those members take throughout a given year are long. Members questioned all stated they participate in over 300 hrs of training each and every year. Training includes both practical courses on firefighting such as staying up to date on all tools and equipment, to classroom training on management of a fire company and instruction of practical skills so that they may teach the future generations of firefighter. Also many members are pursuing collage level courses in fire science so that they may further their career in hopes of a promotion as all members asked state that higher education is the best way to achieve success in this career.

Everyone stated when asked the question “Would you consider another career” the resounding answer was no. Everyone asked feels satisfied with what they do, knowing that at the end of the shift they have made a difference in safety of the city. Members feel confident in each other’s abilities on the job. The members questioned all replied that with the level of training that the department has it strengthens the safety of the department as a whole. Members sited that the continuance of training is what assures that Danville Fire Department will continue to provide public safety for many year to come.


It has been determined that volunteers have a strong desire to serve the community in which they live, that family, and friends play a large role in this decision. Members volunteer for the camaraderie that is found within the fire service. With the amount of training involved members feel dedicated to the service that they provide, and stand as proud citizens helping the community.

It is recommended that a volunteer organization stand ready to meet the challenges of the members of the current era. That training, camaraderie, should be placed high on the list of priorities for recruitment. The department should continue to be a social center for the community, and that pride should be taken in the work that the department does for the community.

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