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)
I find that reguardless of the dept being volunteer, career, or combo. The one thing that upsets me the most is that WE AS FIREFIGHTERS ARE A BROTHERHOOD AND SISTERHOOD. We are a team. We are suppost to be there for each other. As a vollie, and I'm working to become paid, I have been looked down on by paid personal. I have been ignored even if I was first on scene and had Incident Command, according to our Incident Command System. But I have also been looked down on by our neighboring FD that is fully volunteer. A FD that i very rarely saw in any training meetings. But thought they were better then us on handling a scene.
I believe that the areas that have a large population, need a career dept or a very structured volunteer dept like some dept I know of.
The rural areas with a small population, use a combo dept but can survive with a volunteer dept.
The one thing we all need to remember on each scene that we work, we are there as a team. Each personal can be useful help. We go in as a team and we come out as a team.
I was immediately struck by your title. Pretty broad sweeping came to mind.
Indulge me for a sec...I have been away from here for some time. Shout out to MOOSE, AJ and CRABBE.
Your concerns can be walked back to leadership. Period.
Everything that you allude to in your post is a direct result of or a total lack of leadership.
Tensions that grow between fellow firefighters should be squelched post haste BEFORE it becomes full blown animosity.
As for your broad brush (a Ben Waller term; hi Ben, you big lug) of the volunteer fire service; vollies are here to stay. Wolverines!!!
Vollies are here to stay ONLY if they adapt to the changing landscape. As more and more "City Folks" move into the rural they expect city services and that includes a fire department that can do more than show up to wet down the ruins. Now let's be clear, there are many professional volunteer fire departments that do a fantastic job for their communities. They have highly trained, highly skilled, proficient, efficient firefighters with a great track record of saving lives and property. THEY are NOT the issue.
The issue is the volly FDs that keep making the papers or forums; piss poor leadership, lack of staffing, failure to turn out, failure to train, failure to adhere to any kind of professional standards, criminal activity to include arson, embezzlement, and theft of fire department and citizens property. These will kill the volunteer service LONG before the "encroachment" of the career service on volly turf. Volunteer fire departments that refuse to learn the lessons that time has taught that "Good Old Boys" just showing up won't cut it anymore. People have come to expect more than that, they expect that when they call the fire department a serious attempt to save their house will occur, if gramma or junior are in the house they expect that the fire department will make a serious attempt to rescue them, that is Uncle Joe is trapped in his car because of an MVA that the fire department will be able to get him out of the car in a reasonable time without adding to his injuries. RESULTS and to be brutally honest they can be the same whether you are being paid or volunteering.
I am a career firefighter, and a paid on call firefighter on 2 fire deartments so this isn't an angry paid guy ripping vollies. It is simply facing the truth that until vollies are willing to take it seriously enough to be professional they are killing their beloved volunteer fire service. Want a silly stupid example? BEARDS...why do vollies insist on keeping their beards and then saying they want to wear a mask? No matter what they say it is NOT ALLOWED, no one, NFPA MSHA, OSHA, or any manufacturer approved wearing a beard with scba. RULES, follow them or walk away.
You left out the part that says the citizens determine the level of fire protection that they want.
They might want vollies trained to fast attack level and they may want them to be USAR proficient, have water rescue etc., but on an annual budget of 43K, they are in for a rude dose of reality. These are the same people who build their house with the shake roof in the middle of a Douglas Fir farm and then want the USFA to spend 14 million dollars to protect their home.
Sorry; got off track.
I agree that volunteer firefighters should be held to standards and they should conduct themselves in a professional manner, but if the community only pays for a bucket brigade, then they should expect nothing more.
I agree that the politicians decide what they will and won't pay for with the tax payer's dollars. What sets me off in regards to that level of funding is the Fire Chief not standing up and saying: "Well Mr Mayor, we accept that this is all you can budget for us this year. But the consequences of that are real and they may prove catastrophic. We can no longer guarantee that we will be able to make an interior fire attack or go inside to affect search and rescue because the equipment requests I made were not nice to haves, they were have to haves to offer those services. This is not a threat, not an attempt at extortion, it is simply a statement of fact that we can no longer operate at that level when year after year you have decimated both our equipment and training budget. Why have I chosen to say this here instead of in a private meeting with you? Because it is time for the public to know what a sham YOU have turned the fire department into."
It takes a chief with enough balls to make this appalling situation PUBLIC.
So if there is a bucket budget, then where is the money for paid dept.
We're losing volunteer dept here because of the growth of communities. The problem here is there is those that think their better then others because their paid. Lack of leadership is a problem because of tension that is not squelched between firefighters. If a community wants a better fire protection service then that community needs to step up to the plate and be a part of it. Once the money is there, due to the growth of the community, then it should become either a very structured vol. dept or a paid. Once again if you are a vol. firefighter and I'm a paid firefighter, we are still a team. Brothers!!
Russ, As president of a Volunteer firemen's association and talking to many chiefs and county coordinators this is my perception on the demise of the volunteer fire service. I find that most departments that are going through a problem it is caused by lack of leadership. They have chiefs that would rather be at the bar partying with the boys rather then going to the fire house and making sure paper work is in order. They are afraid to stand up to anyone or make sure what needs to be done is done. They do not practice and god forbid if they hold their self's or the department to any type of standards. They have commissioners that have something against someone on the fire department so they make things difficult. The we have been doing it this way for 50 years we are not going to change now attitude.
The fact that the fire service is changing all the time and some refuse to change; this is what i find to be the biggest problem. I can not talk about the rest of the country but in my area this is what the biggest problem is. Most want to be call firefighters but they refuse to keep up with the training or willing to be professional. They want to be the good old boys. The good old boys days are gone. The fire company is the center of most communities. We are the talk at the bar,school and were ever else. Don is 100% correct when he says people from the cities are moving out to the country and expect the same coverage as they had in the city. The economy is tough and people are looking at their taxes. We have people that say they have never looked at the fire tax on their tax bill but now they do. They want to know that they are getting the service they are paying for. The bottom line is if the department is not getting the funds they need to operate they need to step up and let the people know that. It is not easy to do and will most likely piss people off but that has to be done.
So Russ to sum this up if a department refuses to hold them self's to a professional level of service on calls or out in public. They refuse to change along with the changes that are taking place in the fire service. They are going to keep poor leadership in the ranks. They refuse to make sure they have the proper funds to operate. Bottom line is they are going to be shut down. After awhile people will get tried of no response,poor response and vote to abolish the department.
We are our own worst enemies. The only ones that can save the volunteer fire service is us the volunteer firemen. My guess is most of which do not have the balls to stand up and do what is right or speak out on what is right. I could be wrong here but i don't think so. I get several calls from firemen around the county that will have a complaint about something going on in their department; but will not do anything i suggest them to do to solve the problem. Do i have to say more.
If that aint hitting the nail on the head, then i dont what is.
In Illinois, by law, fire districts can raise the tax rate by 4.99% a year without having a Truth in Taxation hearing. Keep this in mind.
When I got on our department in 1980, our annual budget was something like $28,000. The appointed trustees refused to raise the rates, but because additional properties were assessed, by the time I became chief in 1988, we were at $34,000. Again; the trustees would not raise the rates. We continued to squabble; they refused to provide for even the basics, so we pushed a referendum to have the trustees elected rather than appointed. Then we elected new trustees. The first thing the new trustees did was hold a Truth in Taxation hearing because they were going to raise the rate about 5%. When I stepped down as chief to run for trustee, our annual budget was $62,000. After I got on the board, we had a Truth in Taxation hearing to raise the rate and have increased the annual rate by 4.99% every year since I got on the board. Our annual tax base is now $109.000 and the taxpayers have not complained one time. You have to keep them informed and do a realistic budget and then tax for it. If you don't, you will lose members and the confidence of your citizens.
When I was chief, I went up against the trustees on a regular basis. They threatened to replace me; I didn't back down. But it is more productive to get people who understand and get along to accomplish what needs to be done.
It really has nothing to do with having balls. It's about having the money to properly fund a department. Again; it is the community that decides. Fire departments have to run their departments within those constraints.
If it has nothing to do with balls then tell me this...WHY did you stand up to the Trustees over and over. Even after they threatened your position as Chief? You stood up to them because you had the balls to stand up for what was right. Too many chiefs today knuckle under or are put in that position by the trustees for th purpose of hacking the budget. They have no balls to stand up for what was right and no loyalty to the firefighters on the line.
Hello Chief, good to hear from you again!
I have had a few things happen to me the past month or two to support the idea of the leadership being to blame for the downfall of the volunteer. (If I already told you this I apologize, its been a long 3 weeks chasing hurricane sandy and cleaning up its wake and I have been away from all of these firefighter websites)
I was nominated for 1st assistant chief in my department but I am not too happy about how it happened...Our chief of 6 years decides to just quit the department (said it was family issues and personal issues) with no warning. Not just the chiefs position, but the entire department, she resigned outright.
Our current 2nd asst chief dropped out of the race for anything at all, stating hes tired of the members who fail to listen to orders, and fail to follow strict safety guidelines. (thats right, you read that correctly and its why I agree with the leadership thing.) He just wants to be fire police now...I used to respect him a lot, but now he is just jumping ship when things get hard instead of working together to fix the problems. So that leaves our current 1st assistant who is now nominated for chief, and me, nominated for 1st assistant. We have no others that are qualified to be assist chief or Captain.
Our leaders left because things got hard, and thats the issue we face as volunteers...we do not have the leadership capable to stand their ground and fight for the department and ultimately the people we serve, and get what is needed for the department to function as a fire department. Our elections are in December (next monday night) and I am going to pray I get the position so I can start to make some changes. I plan to attend the monthly town board meetings and make a stink there as well as our fire commisioners meetings...its going to be a long hard road but I am willing to do it, hope to make the changes before its too late.
I agree...the "good old boy" days are long gone, but a lot of the members refuse to believe it or accept it. We need to be more professional in our attitudes and act like professional firefighers, the days of coming to a drill and wearing the air pack for an hour to get qualified as interior are over. The days of being sworn in as interior firefighter simply because your daddy, grand-daddy, uncles, brothers and cousins are all firefighters before you are over as well. We need training, properly written and followed SOP's and SOG's, and leadership to enforce and follow these principles completely. Without it, we will fall completely and be lost forever.
Welcome back Chief Art!!!
Well Moose i guess Congratulations may be in order. I'm sorry to hear that your department is going through some tough times. We all do from time to time. I am glad to hear you are willing to step up to get things done to make it better for those involved. I know some just do not like to take orders and it becomes a challenge; this is what my battle has been for the last 3 years.
I have been in a argument with our chiefs and other line officers that; we have let things slip and someone is going to get hurt and we will be in a long court battle over it. We have keep guys on the active list that have not gotten the required physicals, OSHA refreshers or have made the required meetings and practices. This every year at election time cause a problem also on who is eligible to run or vote. So after years of talking and sharing my concerns we finally had a meeting with the executive board and came to a conclusion. Everyone will have till Dec.31st to get there physicals. Will have to March 30th 2013 to get there OSHA and Haz-mat refreshers done. Will have to do the blood borne training in house or prove they got it at work. If physical is not done by the end of the year you will be removed from the department or placed on the inactive list as of January 2013. Same thing with the other requirements. My chiefs thought that once this letter was handed out that they would get a bunch of crap over it. Instead they got a bunch of complements and were told it should have been done along time ago. So this last month at the last two practices we have gone from about 10 to 20 or more showing up. So like i have stated mostly goes to leadership or lack thereof. I know some just do not have the time with work and family but these are the guys that should go on the inactive list or get out so not to pull down the rest of the department. By saying this they should be told when things get back on track for them and they have the time to commit they are welcome to come back. Provided they have a good track record to begin with.
I hate see departments loosing good firefighters but bottom line is if they can not meet the requirements and only show up once in a great while then all they are really doing is causing resentment among the ranks. He never shows up for nothing i'm here all the time blaa blaa blaa i know you have heard it. This is where a good leader would pull this guy aside and tell him he should go on inactive or what ever. Every department is different and has different ways of doing things but i guess you all can get my point. So good luck to you.