(June 8, 2018) In hopes of bolstering its numbers, the Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company brought Christine Bennett on board this week to fill the newly created volunteer retention and recruitment coordinator position.
Bennett, a native of New Castle County, Delaware, spent the last three years working for the Minquadale Fire Company, after starting as a volunteer for the Goodwill Fire Company at the age of 15.
Despite living in the Wilmington until recently, Bennett is no stranger to the shore.
“My family has a summer home in Ocean View, Delaware,” she said. “I lived at the beach in the summer since I was 16.”
After a dozen years in the volunteer firefighter field, Bennett said she understands the challenges to locate personnel from a diminishing pool of candidates.
“I think volunteer fire service recruitment and retention is a national challenge,” she said. “You only have so many people coming in the door.”
Ocean City Fire Chief Chris Larmore echoed those sentiments.
“Nationwide call volumes are going up and, in a lot of places, volunteerism is going down,” he said. “Everybody is really pushed to try and get employees.”
In addition to experience in the field, Bennett has an academic background, after graduating magna cum laude from Delaware Tech Community College with associate’s degrees in fire science and fire protection engineering.
Bennett credits then Minquadale Fire Chief Joe Day for helping to launch her career path.
“I’ve been there three years and got to do a lot in that position,” she said. “I handled their cadet program, as well as retention and volunteerism.”
Bennett said it has been rewarding to observe new members progress to greater heights in the fire company.
“It was great to see somebody start out with no fire service experience and make it all the way through to where they’re a senior firefighter,” she said.
Larmore said Bennett will take a leadership role in developing and maintaining a volunteer recruitment program and serve as the main point of contact during and after new members one-year probationary period.
“We’ve got a lot of people that apply [but] the retention part is where we really have the challenge,” he said.
Although the volunteer fire company has approximately 227 current members, Larmore said about 80 are highly active responders.
“Those 80 members — she needs to know them like a brother or sister,” he said.
The position was created to see that volunteers are meeting expected activity levels, Larmore said.
“Who manages those volunteers to make sure they’re doing their drills, physicals and activity,” he said. “It is extremely difficult to get more time from existing volunteers.”
In many cases, Bennett said educating the public on the variety of active and auxiliary volunteer fire positions available is the first step.
“It’s huge to get that information out ... to let people know they can volunteer and support their community in many different ways … within fire service,” she said. “Everybody has something to offer.