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Building and Maintaining a Sustainable Emergency Service Model through Recruitment and Retention

We continue to face numerous challenges. 


The number of volunteer fire-rescue personnel is steadily decreasing while the need for departments to discuss consolidation is increasing. Nearly every fire department in the nation is struggling with recruitment and retention. 

It is critical to educate the community and our state and local political leadership on the services we provide. Many of them still truly do not understand them or our needs. We are absolutely indispensable, but we cannot do it alone. Our customers want clearly defined services that directly meet their needs. 

The future of the volunteer fire and emergency service depends on the ability of leaders to understand what is causing the volunteer deficit so they can improve recruitment and retention. As leaders, we have a base of knowledge that will allow us to address recruitment, retention, adequate staffing, and training and response demands. 

The bottom line is that communities across Maryland depend heavily on volunteers to protect lives and property. To keep this force strong now and sustain it into the future, leaders must turn their attention to providing accurate information about what it means to volunteer as well as incentives to strengthen volunteer numbers within the fire service.

As the Second Vice President, you can count on me to build the strategic bulwark necessary for this vital face-forward planning and implementation. 

Safety & Wellness of Fire and Emergency Service Personnel

As your Second Vice President, I assure you that I will do everything within my power to educate our state’s leaders about the risks we face as firefighters and how those leaders can directly support the equipment procurement and practices needed to ensure our safety. 

We have recognized that cancer is one of the major killers of volunteer firefighters, and we have increased awareness of the emotional and physical toll that is sometimes realized by our commitment to serving as it relates to mental wellness.


It is imperative that we continue to educate and facilitate health and wellness for our firefighters so that we may implement realistic programs and solutions for our front-line personnel. 

The IAFC VOCS prepared the Lavender Ribbon Report and Yellow Ribbon Report so that this critical information can reach all of our personnel. It is absolutely our responsibility to educate our state, local, and community leaders on the risks we face each day.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are three familiar terms that are heard in today’s fire service. Today, our leadership must understand and support them. Having a work environment that embraces and recognizes individual differences while driving the overall mission and values of any fire-rescue department takes work. 

A successful fire-rescue organization is determined by its overall culture and environment. Leaders who create a culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion not only improve their department but also their community. It is not enough to just have policies and procedures in place. It takes a commitment to diversity strategies and inclusive actions through education, leadership, accountability, and ownership by membership throughout every level of the organization. 

Today, the status quo is not acceptable by society. Departments that feel that the status quo is acceptable are the ones who suffer from the implementation of diversity, equity, and inclusion. These are the same departments that struggle with recruitment and retention. Departments that fail to shift their culture to embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion, are estimated to be able to recruit members successfully from only 35% or less of the population. 

Creating a diverse, equitable, and inclusive department requires acceptance, practice, and participation on all levels. It starts with a department’s mission and values and is reinforced through proper training, protected by policy and procedures, practiced in communication, and driven through strategic plans, promotional processes, and performance reviews. 

As your Second Vice President, I pledge to help our departments to create and support a mission-driven, community-supported volunteer workforce that feels valued and is truly prepared to collectively take on the all-hazard first responder needs for their region.

Professional Development

Research by the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) indicates that poor leadership is among the most cited reasons that volunteers leave their departments. This is not just a retention issue – it also impedes recruitment. People who left because they had a poor experience with the leaders of the local volunteer fire department are out in the community saying bad things about the department. This damages the reputation of the department and discourages new volunteers from joining.

In order to combat toxic leadership issues, the volunteer fire service needs ‘professional’ management and leadership. All too often, the leadership of a volunteer fire-rescue organization is chosen for understandable but wrong reasons. Often the best firefighter/member is elected Fire Chief or President, not always the best leader/manager. While these people might be great on the fireground or may give the membership everything they ask for, he or they may lack the skills to manage people in between emergency calls, or engage volunteers, understand human resources regulations, handle finances effectively, keep records, and recruit and retain the best personnel which represent about 95% of the job. 

Sometimes, individuals get the job because they are the only person in the department who will take it, or they are the only one who has the time or availability to do it. Sometimes, the job goes to the person with the most loyalty to local political leaders.

As your Second Vice President, I pledge to work on making resources available to departments to provide training in leadership and management. This will allow members who wish to move into leadership and management positions to be better educated and prepared to fulfill the functions of the job. Training our personnel to be effective leaders and managers will indirectly improve an organization’s recruitment and retention efforts.


Thanks for submitting!

     Paul Sullivan, Jr.



     (443) 992-6560


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