I know i'm gonna open a can of worms (or a can of whoop ass) on myself but i wish to pose a question and i hope to avoid the usual responses and get some direction on a topic that is incendary. Without saying exactly where its going on because i see it happening everywhere, i would like to hear opinions as to why the volunteer fire service is dying or being put out of service in some areas of the US. Where i'm at in florida (some) volunteer departments are being forced out of existance for legitimate and non legitimate reasons and i wonder how volunteer departments in this situation are handeling it?

As a former volunteer association president i am well aware of the reasons people join but i when i got a resignation i asked for a sitdown to find out why they were leaving and the majority revolved around their work responsibilities (due to downsizing and having more work to do) and the member not having enough time with their family.

In one case when a member used "wanting more family time" i looked at their individual responses vs. the type and amount of calls he actually went on (7 years worth) and saw that this particular person had a tendancy to only respond to the "good calls" and not the BS ones. I called him on it and discovered that the truth was that he was having a personality conflict with some members and decided that quitting was easier. I asked why didnt you just try to work it out and discovered that the conflict was that since we were a combination department he felt that there was a paid vs. volunteer atmosphere and the volunteers were being excluded or viewed as second class members

The way we were structured back then the paid force was supplemented with volunteers and as a paid FF i will say it was nice pulling up with 4 or 5 on a single engine or truck and it worked out real well but we did have a few that took the "i'm a volunteer and i'm not doing that" stance when it came to the less glamerous portions of the fire department and after a claraification session they made their choice BUT on the paid side anamosity grew because some were able to get away with the "they allways make me sweep and mop the floor...while they wash and wax the truck" or "they make me wash the truck while they cook the dinner that we all eat together"-(but they would forget that we would never ask the night vollie to pay into the meal we just threw him or her in)

I guess i'm just wondering if the paid fire service is really that invested in the demise of the volunteer service. i spent the majority of my carrear as a paid FF-EMT and i never felt threatened by the vollies because i started out as a vollie (and in retirement, i'm back with them) but i am disturbed by what i am seeing in the fire service that i love so much.

Again i'm not looking to start the volunteer vs. paid war, i am looking for what i can do to help preserve the volunteer service because i believe both can exist as long as there is an atmsophere of MUTUAL RESPECT

 

(this is one "add discusion" i hope i wont regret)

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I guess i'm just wondering if the paid fire service is really that invested in the demise of the volunteer service

 

Just because of the nature of such topics, I will address this first. There is more to the bigger picture than some simplistic reasoning as this. Much of that picture you already addressed and see it with the "less time for family", "personality conflicts", "increased work demands", even things like "selective call response" (I'll address later).

 

Yet there are other reasons as well, the training committment on volunteers, the certification requirements, the response requirements, proximity to the dept, call volume, changing demographics and so forth. Years ago, these were not the factors we saw. In a rural community you had depts comprised of farmers and townsfolk who depended on agriculture etc. Today we see large scale farms, several with migrant workers, and many town people have moved off to other jobs etc. Those living there now may be for a more suburban aspect, they commute to and from their jobs, and that is demanding enough, let alone be a FF as well.

 

Demographics is a big issue as well. We see an aging population which in turn generates more calls for service at the same time decreasing the pool of people who can respond as firefighters. In many volunteer depts (or those that were once all volunteer) there is an increase in demand, yet supply dwindles...daytime staff, less volunteers, selective response etc....the community sees the alternative is to hire fulltimers to bridge these gaps.

 

Training requirements and certifications is another issue. The time committment it takes just to certify can be a deal breaker for some people. The days of walking on the dept as a "good ol boys" association and OJT are, or should be, over. We see people today that are so involved in so many things, especially with family, that it is difficult to get that time away to meet those training requirements. So again, if those requirements need to be met, hire people.

 

So it really isn't about the paid service being invested in the demise of volunteers, the fire service is evolving and there are many facets to the picture to believe it is something as simple as paid fire service looking to drive out vollies.

 

In one case when a member used "wanting more family time" i looked at their individual responses vs. the type and amount of calls he actually went on (7 years worth) and saw that this particular person had a tendancy to only respond to the "good calls" and not the BS ones.

 

This is a significant aspect that shouldn't be viewed lightly. Yes volunteers do have the ability and luxury to be selective on calls. It is easy to turn back to sleep after the tones drop for the person puking call, sick lady, foot pain etc. I know there are many times I wish I didn't have to respond, but as career, you don't have that luxury, you go. So when you have folks who only show up for the more "exciting" callls, increases the call volume for other folks who do show up to the not-so-glamorous calls.....this in turn increases burn out of those members and in turn the possibility of them leaving.

 

 

i got a resignation i asked for a sitdown to find out why they were leaving and the majority revolved around their work responsibilities (due to downsizing and having more work to do) and the member not having enough time with their family.

 

While this is tied to the previous remarks, the fact of this being a reason is significant in itself. When looking at the majority of volunteer depts, they tend to be in communities where you are seeing less people living and WORKING in the community and instead commute to and from work. Their primary job can also incorporate reasons for demand that takes away time they can volunteer. So again, it is simple supply and demand....as such communities grow, lower tax rates,suburban/rural, etc....so does the call volume. As such it becomes tougher to keep asking volunteers to keep doing more and more without looking at how to address the increased volume with less personnel....the answer tends to be fulltimers.

 

we did have a few that took the "i'm a volunteer and i'm not doing that" stance when it came to the less glamerous portions of the fire department and after a claraification session they made their choice BUT on the paid side anamosity grew because some were able to get away with the "they allways make me sweep and mop the floor...while they wash and wax the truck" or "they make me wash the truck while they cook the dinner that we all eat together"-(but they would forget that we would never ask the night vollie to pay into the meal we just threw him or her in)

 

Several issues here and it comes down to department leadership. It is easy for someone to jump to conclusions on a narrow picture, but it does take the dept leadership to put the foot down. In a way it is like the general public driving past a firehouse, see the pickups and vehicles and say they are paid too much. It just doesn't account for everything.

 

The dept leadership needs to step in and put the foot down that the fire dept issues are tended to first. If you are a vollie and come in for a call, you don't leave until the rig is back in service.....IE don't expect the fulltimers to square the rig away. When it comes to cleaning, everyone is to help out and pitch in. A good way to do this is have a breakdown, such as the rigs are the first priority....getting equipment back in order, cleaning the rigs, etc...then the station.

it should be mentioned to volunteers how things are different for fulltimers. I have heard issues from vollies as to why they have to train etc, yet the fulltimers don't, etc. There are federal laws in place that become a factor in this. A fulltimer, if coming in off duty, is to train, is subject to overtime.

 

Either way, it is up to the leadership to nip issues in the bud when there are some conflicts. If vollies wish to eat, they should also pay. Everyone should be doing the same job, get done training, I would expect to see everyone there cleaning and picking up. After a fire, same thing.

 

 

 

 

All in all, I hope to have helped stave off the C vs V issue and to put a bigger focus on the aspects at hand aside from simple conclusions. The reality is there are many factors involved in which we see a decline in volunteers and they should be accounted for.

As usual John you bring a unique perspective to my question and i thank you for your time. In my origional post i didnt put in alot of the things that caused divisions between the paid and volunteer and i guess what i was seeking was direction as to what can be done to prop up the volunteer service. I agree that leadership is the way to success but demographics often decide what's going to happen and something i call sovereignty feelings amoung the paid service gets in the way in the form of a dedicted effort to eliminate the volunteer service and it's being done with media blitzes, old and new rhetoric and its all more intensified when a volunteer gets hurt or killed with the soultion being better trained paid firefightrers

again. i'm not looking to start a C vs. V war because the reality is that less urban areas will continue to be covered by VFD's because its a cost effective soultion. What i'm trying to understand is why does it appear to be that the paid cant seem to tolorate the volunteers in any form

we did have a few that took the "i'm a volunteer and i'm not doing that" stance when it came to the less glamerous portions of the fire department and after a claraification session they made their choice BUT on the paid side anamosity grew because some were able to get away with the "they allways make me sweep and mop the floor...while they wash and wax the truck" or "they make me wash the truck while they cook the dinner that we all eat together"-(but they would forget that we would never ask the night vollie to pay into the meal we just threw him or her in)

 

This is the attitude that gets me.  If you are a member of the departmtent, paid or volunteer, and stuff needs to be done, everyone should do it...period.  Floors need mopped?  Get it done.  If some vollies are hanging out at station and the paid guys are behind on equipment checks or house duties, help them out!

 

I responded to a large, main street fire in the district next to mine years ago, when I was still a wet behind the ear rookie.  Large fire in a department store connected to a bar, realty place and museum.  We had hundreds of firefighters on scene including the one paid department with their aerial ladder set up in a defensive mode trying to stop this fire in buildings that were hudreds of years old...Long story short, the paid department laid into the scene with over 3000 feet of 5" hose.  After the fire, when they were released they started to pick this hose up by themselves (3 guys) and their chief just said "Pick it up" and he went home.  So I started to help them, I broke apart some couplers to drain it and started to roll it up.  They gave me an attitude.  They snapped at me and said "get the hell out rook, we dont need help from a junior rookie volunteer wanna-be firefighter!!"  I was pretty bothered by that, because I had always been brought up to believe the fire service is a family, and family helps family, I was made blind to the distinctions made to a persons status, color, religion or sex by my parents.  I didnt see 3 career guys, I saw 3 brothers who definitely needed help.  We were all there for at least 12 hours at this point and now they faced all that LDH to drain and pick up, so I helped.  I didnt cry "Im a volunteer, I need to go home to my family, you get paid so pick it up"  I just helped.  Shouldnt it be that simple?  I ended up helping anyway, and 4 of my friends from the department i was in joined us and we picked it all up for them.  One of the crew, I believe he was a Lt., came over and thanked me, and apologized for what the other guy said.  He was decent, and he even sent a letter to our department about a month later thanking us for being true firefighters, helping out brothers in need when we didnt have to.

We help each other because we are a family. 

 

Volunteers are dropping at a horrible rate.  We had 4 accidents this past 2 weeks and we had 2-3 people show up at each call...a chief officer, myself, and a firefighter/driver.  I ended up flagging for 3 hours at one MVA because we didn't even get any fire police to show.  We had to multi-task; I was at one end, the assistant chief was IC and flagging at the other end, and the firefighter was running flares and flagging past the accident scene itself and helping the wrecker crew...

My department has about 20 active members.  Out of that 20, we have 9 qualified, interior, Firefighter I trained firefighters.  Out of that 9 interior members, 5 are officers...Doesnt leave much for interior firefighting efforts huh?  So much for the 2 in-2 out rule.

But we dont run enough to justify having paid staff, even a career daytime staff with volunteers covering nights and weekends.  I was thinking of merging with another department, becoming an outlying station for them and just share resources.  I dont know what to do at this point, as Captain that is a frustrating feeling, especially when I just received notice last week that our chief resigned the department, and our assistant chief is pulling out of everything at our elections next month and running fire poilce only, leaving only 2 qualified people to run for the 3 chiefs spots we have, and have 2 blank Captain spots because we have no one qualified to fill them...It is getting bad, trust me I know.

We carry on though, as best we can, and help each other out, we help each other to get motivated to get the training we need, and cover the calls with enough help to do good.  As a volunteer though, I have no problem with saying;  "We Need Help..."

Stay safe.

Johns response pretty much nailed it. The county where I work has a hand full of paid staff to supplement the day shift (we are the day shift). The paid staff, as we call it, all have certs and training and are held to a certain standard of performance and responsibility. The volunteer side, in my area of the country, comes no where near that same standard. The Fire Marshal has very little control over this for fear of retaliation from district fire chiefs. We have even been told to suck it up and do our job. Another problem for us is that the chain of command between volunteer officers and paid officers is not well defined. And finally for us is that the volunteer folks believe that because we are paid money and because we are at the station 8-5 every day that we should be responsible basically for everything. Dosen't sound like a combination department to me. If its not a combination fire department than whos department is it, the career people or the volunteer people. I would agree that with all the standards in place it is very hard for a volunteer be able to make the proper commitment to training and certification. We are not able to fill all of our positions. We have jobs we can not fill.  Budget constraints prohibit the paid staff from attending the monthly training and business meeting. When a call for service comes in after hours we have to contact someone in administration for approval to respond. There are problems on both sides.

What i'm trying to understand is why does it appear to be that the paid cant seem to tolorate the volunteers in any form

 

The first part of that question would be to look in the mirror and ask yourself why you perceive this and are you part of the issue?

 

I can't speak for people all over the country, nor can I speak on the demographics and issues being faced all over. What I do know is there are two sides to the story and I do know it helps to look in the mirror to understand how others view you as well.

 

Again, I can't speak on the politics where you are, but from where I am, I am not seeing the same thing. Although I am a career FF, I wouldn't say my views are skewed just towards career....if I thought that way, I wouldn't have answered how I initially did. We do have a number of volunteer depts around here and many are facing the same issues that volly depts all over are facing......the biggest factor is a time committment.

 

Along with that, it helps to look at how volunteer depts have further evolved over the years and increased their service capacity that they traditionally haven't done, in a response to career depts. For example, running EMS is a big change. Volunteers, like career, have found that running EMS is a revenue generator. Whereas years ago the majority of volunteer depts were a fire response only. Now, those that do EMS, or First Responder, see increased call volume in the realm of EMS, much like most career depts and becomes an issue as I mentioned before. EMS is just one issue, we further see tech rescue, water rescue, etc, etc that many volly depts never did before either and now find increased training etc.

 

Around my area, we see the volly depts doing the same branching into EMS, most from a First Responder aspect, but still leads to selective responses. I have seen several once all volunteer depts now staffing with fulltimers in either a day response or in 24 hour shifts.....I have even seen volly depts have a "duty shift" sign up for the month that all members had to take a shift. Again this is due in part to less people available for daytime responses, increased call volume, etc. It really comes down to the changing dynamics of the fire service.

 

 

 i call sovereignty feelings amoung the paid service gets in the way in the form of a dedicted effort to eliminate the volunteer service and it's being done with media blitzes, old and new rhetoric

 

Not sure what you mean here. In the realm of sovereignty, I would tend to argue you see more of that with volly depts vs career. For the most part volly depts are in control of their own fate.......quite frankly if the turn out was quick for calls, staffing sufficient, training maintained, etc....well quite frankly it would be tough to argue against not having volunteers. Yet again, when demand (call volume) increases and staffing (supply) is decreased, we see disparities in numbers which lead to questions of better service levels. But, back to soveriegnty, still most volly depts are comprised of an association of members, career depts aren't.

 

 

Now, here is something that you should also be aware of and others in the volunteer fire service and that stems from efforts of political entities like the Iternational County and Municipality Association (ICMA) etc. For the most part these are folks telling elected officials that they should be looking at reduced costs and looking at mergers with depts etc. They also like to attack career fire etc and make suggestions of going volunteer etc. So now you have career FFs that are trying to stave off attacks from elected officials who buy into this and then when you look at suggestions like merging....what is the better alternative for them?

I'm not saying this is what you may be viewing where you are, but it is another reality out there. Now, I don't worry too much on the cutting staffing and go volunteer too much because all those other realities already facing volunteers is there.....and much like you, and others see, it is already a challenge keeping and recruiting volunteers. However, the aspect of merging IS something that can be easily looked at and can be easy to suggest to elected officials to look at the benefits of that as cost savings......especially if a neighboring volly dept is struggling to maintain.

 

 

its all more intensified when a volunteer gets hurt or killed with the soultion being better trained paid firefightrers

 

Don't know all the circumstances involved, but it does beg the question at times too. Typically career FFs are training each duty day and maintain skills to perform the job. For most career FFs who do regularly train say 2 hours a day, you are looking at a 24:6 training ratio of volunteers who may train 6 hours a month. Not saying this is accurate, but just some numbers pulled for comparison sake. Now there are career who don't train as often and vollies who do train more, but the fact is training hours should be recorded and the advantage typically goes career.

 

So when it comes to a volly getting hurt or killed, the questions automatically come around, as it would for a career FF. However, if we look at the nature of volunteer FF LODD to career, the circumstances tend to weigh heavier on volunteers, especially with responses to and from incidents in vehicle accidents.

 

Although, I will be honest, that I did question the LODD of a volunteer earlier in the year here in WI. It was a volunteer FF who died in a movie theatre fire where tactics should be questioned and I did question. Just by looking at the pictures in a series that a bystander took, one can see what the depts were doing was questionable....and quite frankly, wrong, especially if there were FF's inside. For this purpose, there was a defensive attack at the same time there was people inside, there was also PPA the same time people were inside with clearly inadequate ventilation. Now I won't say this all occurred because these folks weren't fulltime firefighters, but it goes along with the questioning of such decisions.

 

 

 

In the end Russ, I don't have anything more to increase volunteers etc. I see the decrease of volunteers occurring for many of the reasons I pointed out. We are facing an aging population where we see increases for EMS related responses while at the same time see folks from the "ME" generation who think everything is done for them. We see time constraints and family obligations taking precedence over increased fire training time and response obligations. We see folks that tend to need an incentive over just "doing a community service" and at the same time see a reluctance to make such obligations worthwhile. Furthermore, much of the same issues can make the bean counters ask is it financially worth the cost to send 4, 5, 8 new people for training, purchase gear, etc, etc only to have them quit, selective respond etc.....or is it more financially sound to look to merge or hire fulltimers.

 

So is it really about fulltimers looking to drive out volunteers, or is it about looking at the bigger picture? Quite frankly, we don't see the same type of generation of say farmers looking to band together for each other's fires. We see people who want to either do the job as a career and look towards that angle for most young kids....as well as many sons/daughters of FFs who may volunteer....go on to other places, or other careers as they grow. We see volunteers getting older and can't commit as they once did and we see more "suburbia" folks with the mindset that someone else will step in.

  I work for a large city dept.  I haven't heard of anyone bad mouthing Vol departments.  In fact more than a handfull of guys on the job are also Volunteers in there home towns.

My thoughts as a junior for a volunteer station.

I believe it is the younger generation who is to blame. In my experience the older junior we had quit after only 6 months on the dept. I am the only cadet who has joined since April 2011 and we've been gaining members yes but they are all older than 30 and the youngest(me) is 17 only 2 or 3 between 17 and 30 and they are both careers in other towns so they don't have time to help with our calls. We have teens and lower 20s who believe that "why do something for free in Clarkson when we can get paid $10 a call and training in Norfolk as a reserve" for instance, using my town and the nearest paid dept. I myself am going to go be a career when I am old enough plus be a volunteer.

 I have heard that and a majority of Nebraska is volunteer with career depts in Norfolk, Columbus, Omaha, Lincoln, Grand Island, Fremont etc. I do believe that Kearney, which is slightly bigger in size and population to Norfolk and Columbus is only a Volunteer, so God help us if Volunteers go out then we might as well ask all of Nebraska to burn up in case of a fire.

There's my two cents worth, and a rant.

You mention what is happening in Fla, I am sure you are referring to Hillsborough closing down 3 vol depts and replacing them with paid. 2 of the 3 were poorly run, mismanaged, and suffered from poor leadership. I honestly do not know why the 3rd was closed.

As a career FF, I have no problems with vols, I am a former one myself. IF they are trained to the same level as career, and have the same high standards. No facial hair, uniforms, look and act professional. Without being held to the same standards, then you have no respect. I could go on, but I do see the bashing from career side quite often, and it is unnecessary. We need to remember WHY we are all here. And here is a hint, it's not to swell the ranks of the IAFF or for a paycheck, or join a social club.

 No facial hair, uniforms, look and act professional. Without being held to the same standards, then you have no respect.

This says it all brother.  I recently transferred to the department I am in now from another, and the first parade I went on I had my uniform on with badge, all neat and trim.  The others had on T-shirts and jeans, sneakers, one guy not even shaved...they looked at me like i was a moron.  Most people have no respect for the position or have no more honor.  They can wear all sorts of T-shirts with corny firefighter slogans and "I fight what you fear" BS but they cant wear the uniform to show respect for your department and your mutual aid departments?

We also have a policy in place for no facial hair when wearing your SCBA at fires and our assistant chief (the one who is leaving the office this November) will not let you in if you have any hair along the jaw line.  One guy stopped showing up because of that...oh well, no loss for us.

Stay Safe AJ.

I can look at my own dept and see the problems that caused our problems. Since I have been a member since the 70s I have the many leadership changes on both sides of the county fire service.

A few career chiefs kept both sides in check and working together. In our vol dept we had a vol leadership that got our members into classes to advance our dept. Many members got their  national certifications for firefighting.

But as time went around the 80s the county government taxed the citizens out of the county and school busing forced  others to move.

Many of our members started getting jobs outside our area or work with career fire depts so they had to leave.

The new members came in that changed the atmosphere some good and some that really messed things up.

We had members that  couldn't stay in other vol depts because they were problems there. They had ways of driving other members away and causing problems until we could find ways to get them out.

Leadership now we have a chief that many has said told them "My way or the highway" Many left on those words that were keeping our roles full and didn't want to deal with the man.                                                                                                                                Others question the ways of our lower rank  officers. Some don't have the gumption of leadership of others I have known. Some don't have the attitude to be an officer and want to be an officer.                                                                                                                  New member come in and have to wait for their paperwork to come back from investigations then the time it takes to get them into require classes to start riding.

Some come in thinking they will be riding right away and get discouraged and never come back.  

  

 but I do see the bashing from career side quite often

 

In what ways AJ?

It appears you and Russ are from Florida and basically making the same comments, but addressing this on an international website. I'm not seeing the same issues, nor "bashing" that is being referred. I'm not saying it doesn't happen, but I don't think it is as widespread as you and Russ may believe.

 

Now, I know Russ didn't want to turn this into a C vs V type of debate, but I would bet that you could probably find incidents of the reverse being true as well. It helps to look at a bigger picture.

 

 

 

We need to remember WHY we are all here. And here is a hint, it's not to swell the ranks of the IAFF or for a paycheck, or join a social club.

 

Very true, it is about doing the job and protecting citizens and yes, at times that basic can get lost in the overall picture. Yet, the issues facing the fire service are real and do need to be addressed, which can allude to some confusion as to what you are speaking here. It can be easy to percieve a push for fulltimers to be a push from the IAFF or career members, but the issues I addressed earlier still exist. As for the "social club" aspect, unfortunately there are those depts that still believe this to be their primary purpose. Yes, that isn't why we are all here, but from a career standpoint, saying such moves are just about swelling the ranks of the IAFF doesn't hold true.

Russ,

   The demise of the VFD's isnt because of a C vs V problem, most of the problems with the volunteer service has been brought on upon us by ourselves:

> I know of more than a few departments that have a standing beer delivery to the STATION every month, who wants to join an organization who holds itself up to be a frat house for us old guys.

> There are some 50 departments in my county at least 10 of those run less than 60 calls a year. These departments siphon off manpower and grant money from the busier departments just so BillyBob can stay Chief. How can we convince people to join our ranks to do "community service" when we cant be bothered to do whats best for our members and communities by consolidating with larger departments. Benefits of consolidation would be right sizing the equipment available in an area and enabling better training for all members.

> As mentioned previously how can we attract new members when out in public our current membership appears to be a collection of people you would expect to hold a cardboard sign up saying "will work for food"? 

> If we want to score any points in the court of public opinion we need to understand paid or volunteer only represents compensation, but professional is an attitude that we have to maintain! Trucks and station cleaned after every call, set some type of yearly training requirement even if its 40 hours a year at least we have started something. Some sort of appearance standard...facial hair not permitted for department functions, uniforms (at the very least dept tshirt and dickie work pants) kept neat and clean

 

I could go on where we are our own worst enemy, we have created most of our own problems (yes training standard have helped some too) and until we start to fix the house we have we wont be able to bring in the people we are going to need going forward to ensure that the volunteer fire service survives the next few decades.

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