I would like to ask everyone's opinion on the subject of Volunteer Firefighter training. My own personal opinion is that every Firefighter in the United States be it Volunteer or Career should be required to have atleast FF1 certification and training. What do you think?
In order to be able to even legally do anything on the fire scene you must have FF1. Though not everyone follows that rule it is a very important one. I was told when I joined that to even be able to ride the truck you must have FF1.
That would be nice, but how do you fund it? Ohio requires the 36 hr. Vol. FF. course. They did finally wise up some and required 18 hours of continuing Ed. every year, and even then a few rural dept.s howled about it. There are still some dept's that have to have a bake sale to buy diesel fuel. It would take state and federal funding to make this possible for every dept. A good goal to be sure though. If you are Career, you should have more than FF1 though.
The Commonwealth of Virginia has no standards for volunteer firefighters. None. Zilch. Nada. Anyone aged eighteen or over can be a firefighter, instantly and with no training.
Virginia has standards for EMTs. Virginia has standards for Animal Control Officers. But anyone 18 or older can drive a half-million dollar fire engine and respond to, even command, fire, MVA and Hazmat scenes.
So, each volunteer department sets its own standards. We require FF I within two years of joining. I would like to require it within a year, but the class is offered infrequently and inconveniently, so a 2-year window is realistic. There is also a 3-part "Fire Attack" class that is popular among rural volunteer departments, largely because it is an attendance class (no tests, written or practical). This is better than nothing, but a poor substitute for what is in reality only introductory training.
The issue for Virginia is a simple one. If the Commonwealth requires FF I for all firefighters, it must make that training available. Virginia is unwilling to make that financial commitment, and in truth, many (perhaps most) volunteer departments would resist that requirement for fear that they would be unable to meet it.
All I can do is see that my firefighters are as well-trained as I can make them, so that they can be both safe and effective when the tones drop.
Warner Winborne, Ph.D.
Chief, Hampden-Sydney Volunteer Fire Department
I just resigned from a volunteer dept over this very issue just last week. I am IFSAC / ProBoard certified FF I / FF II, HAZMAT A/O, and RIT Team trained. I earned my certifications while a volunteer with Hampton Div. of Fire and Rescue in Hampton, VA which is a combination paid / volunteer department.
It was quite a shock to move out here to New Mexico and join a department that had NO certified firefighters, even at the FF I level. Here in NM the State Fire Marshals Office has released a 23 page Firefighter I position task book that is to be completed within 2 years of being issued to the candidate. This task book contains the basic tasks that are required to be known by a firefighter at the FF I level. It is to be signed by someone qualified / trained to perform these tasks. It may also be signed by the AHJ (Authority Having Jurisdiction, ie: Fire Chief). Herein lies my concern, the Dept Chief wasn't even certified at the FF I level. The state of NM offers a 2 week Firefighter I class at their state academy.
Another dilemna I faced was being told that the department wasn't required to adhere to the state's federally approved OSHA plan and regulations as it didn't pertain to volunteers. I was also informed that NFPA standards didnt pertain to volunteers.
A quick search on google found the New Mexico OSHA plan under NMAC 22.214.171.124 under the section titled FIREFIGHTING.
When I asked who had informed the chief and asst. chief this I was informed that the state fire marshals office told them this.
I know that I am going to take a lot of critism on this, but----I would rather go in with someone with a 36 hour card and 2 years of active experience than someone with a FFII who got it in highschool. You can't replace experience with the FFII card. For me personally, it hasn't changed anything I have done for some reason, after I became FFII, the fires still don't go out any faster. Maybe it missed the memo.
Here, in NJ, the state doesn't require FF1 to belong to a fire department, but it is required to work in the 'hot zone'. Most deparments I know do require it. The volunteers attend the same academies as the career departments.
I can say at my station here in MD we have access to all MFRI (Maryland Fire Rescue Institute) classes. I believe that this is a standard here in MD. to the best of my understanding MFRI is available to all volunteers and career personnel. In my station before you can ride, you must have Blood Borne Pathogens and HAZMAT Operations. We also have 2 basic levels, Black Hat and Yellow Helmet. Black Hat is a non-certified member, as a BH you can ride, but basically not do much, you can fetch tools and some limited exterior operations. You also must stay on ground level, so no ladder work. BH's are very limited, it is the descretion of the officer or senior FF if you ride a particular call, and if enough Yellow Helmets show up for the call, you can get bounced from the call. Our line officers also prefer that you have made it through at least the Mid-Term of FF-I. In the event a member joins and there is not a FF-I class availabel for a while we hava a FF Basic course you can go through to get cleared to ride, but in our region there are usually 2-3 FF-I classes a year, if not more.
also, prior to riding a BH must take a vehicle familiarization test. this is both a written equipment knowledge as well as a practical "where is it and how does it work" type test.
once you pass FF-I before you are issued your yellow helmet, you have to take another practical test which includes components of the BH test as well as adding some other FF basic skills. this is the statons way of making sure that you can do the tasks.
to get an idea what is offered, check out www.mfri.org. i think that this is a wonderfull resource to have available to Volunteer firefighters, and it also standardized the training statewide. these courses also meet the ProBoard standards, so even as a volunteer we have the ability to ProBoard our certifications.
Regarding the volunteer service, I think there should be a defining line between those of us who hold enough interest to forgo the other things in our lives to undergo training and those of us who don't.
Firefighters can be broken down into two groups:
A) Those who are firefighters
B) Those who regard firefighting as something else that they happen to do.
Group A will sacrifice enough of their time and resources to train to be the best they can be at the task of firefighting/rescue/EMS. They volunteer for the right reasons.
Group B feels that they've paid their annual dues, show up at enough calls to remain on the active crew list, enjoy the social functions and sell a few raffle tickets and helped out decorating the hall for the holidays. They make the parade on the fourth in their uniform and they don't hesitate at parties to let on that they're a volunteer. They probably have their personal vehicle festooned with enough lights to properly deck out a Christmas tree.
They volunteer for all the wrong reasons.
There is actually a group C, which is comprised of those who are a combination of both groups, depending on what's going on in their lives at any given moment. They will sometimes take on additional training classes when the mood strikes.
I think that there is room, and actually perhaps a need, for all three groups on the fire/emergency scene. Nearly everyone can roll hose and put tools away and help to wash down fire apparatus. Those of us who have made the sacrifices to be suitably trained may reap the rewards of being allowed to perform the more involved tasks.
With the rolls of volunteer fire departments at a low, I think it wise to keep everyone who is physically able on the rosters. It is up to those of us in group A to try and keep the interest of the others, even fostering goodwill and leading by example, if that's what it takes to increase the numbers of good people in the fire service.
It would be great if we could limit the involvement in the fire service to those persons who exemplify group A, but that's just not realistic. If someone doesn't want/is unable to undergo extensive training, they should still have a place where they can be of some assistance to those of us who are firmly entrenched in group A.
Me? I'm all for training as much as is possible, even refresher courses. You can't know too much and it's too easy to forget.