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Morning Lineup – February 17

Friday Morning – Join Up, Will You?

One of the themes we have continually touched on ever since Firegeezer went online nearly five years ago, is the dramatic decline in people volunteering to serve their local VFD's and rescue squads.  It has always been my opinion that this is primarily due to two reasons, one is cultural and the other is regulatory.

The cultural obstruction is the phenomena of the Yuppie generation that is marked by an affliction of self-centeredness that reaches extremes.  Everybody knows some of these people who think the world revolves around them and spend their time rewarding themselves.  Putting their efforts toward helping society in general is a horrifying thought to them, and taking time to go help strangers is not conceivable.

The regulatory obstacle is something else that we have mentioned here several times and I am referring to the ever-increasing minimum standards to be met before any participation can be taken.  Briefly, requirements in some areas that every ambulance must have a certified paramedic on board is a real impediment.  Very few people have the time or inclination to spend a full year of weekend classes to get the cert.  And I don't blame them at all.  Also, I question the validity of requiring a new volunteer fire recruit to likewise get certified before they can even ride the pumper and participate in activities.  There is nothing wrong, in my opinion, with giving them a couple of weekends of orientation and then allowing them to ride and help with basic needs (like straightening hose lines or charging the hydrant) while they progress through their FF-I, II, and III training.  If you don't let them do something, then they are quickly disappointed and get the impression that they aren't really needed after all.

There are always recruiting drives and programs by departments and associations in an effort to stem the shrinkage of active volunteer members and one of our readers, Peter L. passed along this video public service announcement that was produced by a volunteer association in Washington State.

 

It's a well-produced clip, but unfortunately so far I haven't seen any of these types of promotions become effective recruiters.  While the casual observer my find it interesting, I still think you must first change the regulations and, more problematic, change the culture.

Our culture here demands that  we get this equipment checked out, so let's get started with that.  And since coffee is part of the firehouse culture, I'd better get more of that going, too.  See you back in the day room.

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Comments - Add Yours

  • Gnome Handler

    While I absolutely agree that these two issues are at the core of the problem, I think there is a secondary issue that every single VFD needs to examine. Im talking about firehouse politics. I’ve seen a number of active, well run fire companies here in Pa. take a hit when some internal issue escalates and a number of regulars walk out the door. It is usually a power struggle that brings it on. A long time chief (good or bad) is challenged by a couple or even a large number of younger members and the end result is one or the other leaves. The old guys get ousted or the group of younger people walks. Sometimes this confrontation can get legal in a hurry if there are shenanigans going on or suspected with the finances. A number of departments here in Pa. have even gone to the extreme of having to have police present to make for orderly meetings. In a couple cases, the companies ended up with court appointed administrators for a time until audits were done, and lawyers made sure all was being legally run. Its time for the state to step in and change the nature of the legal status of the VFDs in our state, and require the VFDs to be more responsible to their hosts communities, rather than the personal and privately run fifedoms of years past. One only has to look at the Gainsville VFD problem in northern Virginia to understand how bad it can get. Another issue Ive witnessed, is the “ruling clique”. You have a tight nit group of friends running things and newer recruits have a hard time penatrating that wall and feel left out or that they are being sidelined, being denied opportunities for advancing in rank or training. Its time for a basic challenge test for volunteer line officers. A minimum amount of training in order to even stand for election or appointment to any rank that may find itself in command of a fire ground. Ive seen far too many houses burn while some yahoo with a new white hat tries to figure out how to make his portable radio work. Who knows how many other firefighters have been injured thanks to incompetent officers?  

  • SCFFEMT-P

    We can always save money for career Fire Fighter/EMT’s by
    cutting paid positions in the Police Department and replacing them with
    volunteer “gun-handlers”. Just teach people how to hold people at gunpoint and
    secure the scene until a certified law enforcement officer can arrive to make
    an investigation. It makes perfect sense to me and I know for a fact that most
    PD’s would be inundated with volunteer applications. We all know that police
    officers spend most of their time writing/taking reports and non-emergent
    service-call responses. They rarely respond to a true emergency; meaning, they
    had to directly intervene to thwart criminal-activity in order to save someone’s
    life. Most PD life-saving stories come from areas where the LEO serves in a
    jurisdiction were Fire and EMS services are unreliable and they had to operate
    out of their job scope.  I guarantee that
    if you comparatively broke-down the “emergency” runs in any municipality, you
    would be amazed. However, we all know that “fear of violence” trumps fire/ems/hazmat/rescue
    in most societies.

  • John

    I disagree on selfishness being the problem. I believe the biggest problem is time. People are working two jobs, both parents work, commutes are longer, they have crushing student loan debt, and their kids have plenty of activities demanding their time. When we were kids, mom and dad turned us loose on the neighborhood, and we rode our bikes, played ball in the street, etc. Now mom and dad have to chauffeur them to scouts/sports/dance/play group/tutoring, etc, while living up to the helicopter parent ideal. Schools demand more volunteer support as their resources are slashed. Grandma and grandpa can’t afford to retire and watch the kids, even if they are still close enough to do so after you moved for that third job since you were laid off.

    I agree on the certification and Gnome’s point on the politics. I have seen the cliques ruining the volunteer organizations like the VFW.

    Other issues are funding and call volume. People pay high taxes (most of them to schools), and when they move away from the city to the burbs they expect to have the same level of services they had in the city. Most don’t know if they have volunteer service, and if they do, they assume someone else will do it. And if you do get them in the door, and the training doesn’t drive them out, the level of ridiculous runs will. You can only leave your family events or job so often before you start rolling your eyes at the false alarms and people who call 911 for the flu. We demand much, and give little. I get paid to do this job, and I’ve reached the point that I can’t understand why anyone would do it for free.

  • Scott

    “Also, I question the validity of requiring a new volunteer fire recruit to likewise get certified before they can even ride the pumper and participate in activities.  There is nothing wrong, in my opinion, with giving them a couple of weekends of orientation and then allowing them to ride and help with basic needs (like straightening hose lines or charging the hydrant) while they progress through their FF-I, II, and III training.  If you don’t let them do something, then they are quickly disappointed and get the impression that they aren’t really needed after all.”

    Once our new personnel are given the basic safety orientation, they are assigned turnout gear, receive pagers and are encouraged, but not required to respond to calls.  This gets them into the habit of responding and to feel like they are part of the organization.  It allows them to participate in, or at least observe what they are learning in class.  We let our Explorers ride on the truck, so we certainly should let our new recruits. 

    Our recruiting video can be seen here:  http://www.ci.maple-grove.mn.us/content/141/185/836.aspx    We are still evaluating its effectiveness.  The most recent group of firefighters was hired just as this video was placed on our web site.  So our hiring in 2012 will be the first true test.  The video was produced by one our our firefighters who is a camera guy for a local twin cities television station.  The narration was provided by one of the news anchors.  There are a few glitches, but we think it generally turned out pretty well.
     

  • nick

    Theres a “fireline” type of ad running in Rhode Island.  As far as it’s effectiveness, it seems to cater to only one volunteer department.  It did at least get me in the door of the department, however, I was turned off by the requirement of having to learn the name of ALL the equipment and the locations theyre are carried on the 4 trucks.  And I mean if it is in the compartment, you have to have it memorized or you won’t pass the test.  Personally, I think it silly to have that requirement.  Vote the member in, put him on the truck (if theres a seat not occupied by a certified member), and learn that way.  When I was on my department while living in CT, that is how it was done, and I turned out just fine.