Embracing tech tools to help manage your volunteer fire department
Apps and online tools can ease the burden of administrative paperwork – and not knowing where to begin on new projects
By Tori Mikulan
When the average citizen thinks about a volunteer fire department, they probably don’t imagine a heap of administrative work, not to mention all the accompanying paperwork. But admin work is a critical piece of the operations puzzle, and all leaders must handle it at some level.
Some of this work might include:
- Finance management
- Fundraising efforts
- Recruitment efforts
- Community engagement
- Personnel issues
- Policy and by-law compliance and effectiveness
- And the list goes on.
Some of these tasks are drawn out over weeks, months, if not years; other projects require collaboration among multiple people or groups, internal and external; and some work can only be accessed at the fire station. Volunteer firefighters put in long hours on these operational duties, and that time needs to be respected by being utilized as efficiently and effectively as possible.
How do we do that?
Accepting new tools – and change
Change and technology are both common love/hate topics, so it’s appropriate that they so often go hand in hand. Remember, there’s a learning curve with new tech tools. For some people, that curve may be influenced more by the change itself than the complexity of the technology.
The COVID-19 pandemic spotlighted many solutions already available and resulted in new innovations in response to remote work needs. These solutions can enhance our administrative management as well. Some of your members might already be using them at home, not realizing how they can be applied to the fire department.
Many tools offer multiple tiers and versions, resulting in varying costs, features and accessibility. Depending on your administration’s needs, the free options may be a perfect fit. As a volunteer organization, you also may be eligible for discounted or free versions with your tax status.
Useful tools for VFDs
Below are descriptions of some of the commonly used workplace technology that can help streamline administrative tasks for administrators at volunteer fire departments.
Cloud-sharing: Most of us have heard of “the cloud,” and we use it more than we may realize. One of the good things about cloud storage is that it helps promote flexibility and accessibility. With cloud storage, you are not tied to a single physical location or device. Depending on permissions and parameters (unique to different apps and devices), multiple people can access files from individual devices. This is the type of ease we’ve taken for granted in our everyday lives – just pull it up on your phone. If it sounds like you’re just accessing a file from an attached email, you wouldn’t be wrong. But with the cloud, you cut out the middleman. Instead of emailing edited files back and forth, you simply save the file where you received it using apps like Google Drive, Dropbox or OneNote. This also helps maintain version control, as you can see the changes made to the file at different stages.
Google: Google is more than a search engine. With its own cloud-sharing (Google Drive), applications such as Pages, Sheets and Slides are comparable to the Microsoft Suite without the cost. As a cloud solution, multiple users can have access to files at the same time from different devices and accounts, eliminating accessibility restrictions. It also has compatibility with other file versions.
With Google, you can share documents, spreadsheets, calendars, create websites and forms, host video meetings, and much more. Google Workspace is a version with the needs of a collaborative team in mind. If eligible, Google for Nonprofits offers versions of Google Workplace either free or discounted, depending on which tiers you choose.
Canva: Most firefighters aren’t also graphic designers. However, visuals are an integral part of our communications needs, especially with the public. After all, we process imagery much faster than any other stimuli, so a good graphic can easily be the difference as to whether or not someone chooses to engage with your communication. First impressions matter. And we want to get people’s attention – through recruiting materials, fundraising advertisements, educational and safety materials, and more.
Visual design can be intimidating and seemingly time-consuming. With tools like Canva, you can move past the days of Clip Art on a Word doc. You can create files that are as simple or as complex as you want them to be. There are numerous templates and graphics within the realm of firefighting to choose from. Need a fire safety document? There’s a poster template that you can customize with the content you need. There are recruitment templates specific to public safety, donation letter templates, brochure layouts and more. You can prepare videos, websites, logos, presentations, newsletters, social media posts, calendars – anything you can imagine. And you can add your own photos and videos to designs.
Canva is full of extremely valuable and helpful features, but some of these are only part of the “Pro” version. Most likely, the free version would be enough to meet your fire department’s needs, especially with so many alternative applications available to fill any gaps.
WhatsApp: WhatsApp is an instant messaging/texting tool that provides enhanced security compared to mobile carrier messaging and other messaging apps. It offers end-to-end encryption, which means the conversation stays between the sender and recipient(s). It is operational on the typical Android and Apple platforms but can also be installed on Windows PCs and Mac laptops, increasing accessibility and availability. Finally, actually using WhatsApp isn’t different from your typical SMS apps – the interface won’t look much different. It is what is going on in the background of the messaging that makes WhatsApp a good choice. How many social-themed apps manage to enhance security and accessibility?
Simplify your admin time
These are just a sampling of applications and solutions that can make managing your department’s administrative tasks easier. The vastness of available technology can be overwhelming, but it can also be advantageous to find the best solutions for you.
About the author
Tori Mikulan is a volunteer for a fire department near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and a professional writer. Learn more about Mikulan and her writing at her website.