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New Botetourt County position to help recruit, retain firefighters and EMTs

Published: Mar. 11, 2021 at 5:33 PM EST
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BOTETOURT COUNTY, Va. (WDBJ) - Botetourt County Fire & EMS is tackling the challenge of finding and keeping qualified candidates to serve the community as volunteers and career staff members.

For the first time, the department has a full-time Recruitment and Retention Specialist on staff.

Taylor Lunsford stepped into the role this week. The Botetourt County native comes from a family of volunteers and volunteered with the Fincastle Volunteer Fire Department herself.

“So it was kind of a family effort to make sure you put your community first,” Lunsford said.

That passion for community is something Lunsford plans to bring to this new role.

“Right now, I am doing a lot of research on the applicants in the past and maybe why they didn’t stick around, or how we can help them be better,” she said.

Attracting and retaining volunteers and staff members is a challenge for many departments, Fire and EMS Chief Jason Ferguson said.

The current staffing and volunteer situation is not grim, but it is an issue the department hopes to address and improve, Ferguson said.

“Our business is a life and death business and we want folks to receive the best service that we can provide with the resources available,” he said.

Over the decades Botetourt County has experienced a lot of growth. When Ferguson started volunteering in 1997, he said the department responded to about 1,500 calls a year. Now crews respond to 4,500 emergencies annually, many of them medical and rescue calls.

“We’ve just got to really get back to pace with the demand from the community, because the community has grown a lot, but the Fire-EMS services have not,” Ferguson said.

The demands and requirements for volunteers have also increased. Ferguson said to volunteer with a rescue squad, an applicant will have to commit to a lot more training than one would have had to in the past.

To address some of those obstacles, Lunsford said she will communicate with different stations and work to meet their needs.

“You know get them into things that they would like to do and get them the training and opportunities they would like to have,” Lunsford said.

The department will also consider adding things like exit interviews and will track specific data to better understand why people eventually leave, Ferguson said.

This is not the first time a role like this has been part of the department. In the early 2000s Botetourt County Fire & EMS had grant money to hire a part-time recruitment and retention specialist. Once that grant money ran out, the job was taken away.

The county originally approved Lunsford’s position for funding for January 2020, but the COVID pandemic froze the position until recently.

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