Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Why Legislate Against Volunteerism?

With the recent position statement issued by the IAFC, “two-hatters” are again in the spotlight.

I have participated in discussions concerning a career firefighter’s right to volunteer as a firefighter in other communities. And it is refreshing and encouraging that an organization such as the International Association of Fire Chiefs takes a very clear position on it.

Now; I don’t believe that it is wise to volunteer in the rural portion of the municipal department that a firefighter works full time for, but I see nothing wrong with that same firefighter volunteering outside of the community where he works. It should be his/her individual right to volunteer or not.

The issue evokes as much emotion as discussions on politics and religion among firefighters. The reasons, both pro and con, fly back and forth like Scud missiles!

The IAFF’s official, public position on the practice of two-hatting is stated in part in a letter from Harold Schaitberger to Felix Grucci on July 25, 2002 and states, “…Specifically, concern has been raised that our organization [IAFF] engages in actions against volunteer firefighters that would be injurious to these individuals’ employment status, and job security with their government and/or fire department position…[T]he IAFF does not support actions that would jeopardize the ability of a career firefighter to obtain or maintain active membership in a volunteer organization. This is a personal choice.”

However; these statements are in direct contradiction of the IAFF’s Resolution 43 that condoned and encouraged reprisals against professional firefighters in Prince George’s County, Maryland and as volunteers in nearby communities.

Schaitberger has since clarified his position on union members volunteering as firefighters by stating, “Although an IAFF member may make a personal choice to join a volunteer fire department, that personal choice is one that can have serious consequences under our Constitution, including the loss of IAFF membership”.

So, you have IAFF members who want the freedom to choose to volunteer on their off days and you have a union that wants monopoly-bargaining control over its members.

What are some of the other issues at play in this controversy?

From the union’s side, they feel that it softens their bargaining power if members fight fires for free during their off time. Some believe that, by limiting union participation in volunteer departments, that you could force some communities to go with full time departments.

Injuries and illness have been raised as concerns. What happens if a career firefighter is injured while volunteering and can’t work his full time job? He might collect temporary benefits and his position may have to be covered with overtime.

What happens if the firefighter gets cancer? Did he get it as a volunteer or at his full time gig? It opens up the whole “presumptive Pandora’s Box”.

These are legitimate concerns and to a degree, an entity has a right to protect its “investment”.

But, how far can that go? Will you be told that you can’t ride motorcycles, para-sail, scuba dive or own guns, because those activities pose risks?

That reason that this two-hatter issue hits the hot button is simple: does a union, employer, government entity or anyone else who may exert power or authority over us have the right to tell us how we may spend our free time?

If they do, where do you draw the line?

If they don’t, then who pays if there is a catastrophic illness?

In my mind, there are still more questions than answers.

And it leaves me wondering if a community would give up fire protection all together rather than pay for full time protection.

After all; isn’t that the bottom line; what type of fire protection a community wants and can afford?
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35 comments:

  1. Will be interested to see what the IAFF comes out with after the declaration. Also what made the IAFC do this now after being fairly non-committal for so long

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  2. This is only on the table because of big city locals that do have some say regarding pay , which is mainly the issue here because with good pay comes firefighters who are available to their community. The IAFF must have no respect for the small locals, who they do not lobby ,for that would be devastated economically if this was to come about. What needs to happen is those with power need to hold the ignorant community leaders accountable for the poverty of their employees!! Also a side note here is that we do have individual rights in this country, do you remember that union leaders or have you forgotten the PEOPLE!

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  3. I think it is silly that a firefighter can not volunteer in there community, does it also mean they can not "volunteer" to give blood in there community? or volunteer with there local boy/girl scouts, where do you draw the line? Have the union leaders forgotten where they came from? I have been a Firefighter for 29 years and I will never forget the volunteers, they are the back bone to the Fire Service! Take a look back in History and see how far back Volunteerism goes! We are all brothers and sisters here in the Fire Service weather you are a Volunteer or carrer Firefighter!

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  4. The IAFF should ask themselves, would they rather see no fire protection in areas without funding for paid crews. Many of these areas are where the IAFF members and their families live. Many IAFF members came from the volunteer ranks. Don't forget where you came from. Do the right thing. In the end, it will make the IAFF even more respected.

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  5. I've been around longer than this controversey has, and I've been involved in it as well. I started Volunteering in 1958 with the Glenn Dale, Md. VFD, which my Grandfather helped organize in 1928. With 13 family members already there, it was what I wanted to do from the time I was 2 or 3. I'm still there, and now serving as Chief. Problems came after I took a Career Firefighting job and joined the IAFF. I soon fixed the problem by resigning from the Union. It wasn't easy, but I stood up for my rights. Anyone else can do the same.

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  6. I'm not sure how it works south of the 49th parallel but up here north of it the word "volunteer" gets tossed around with abandon and it is a misomer. There is no such thing as a volunteer as they get paid per call out, paid for training hours etc., so call it like it is; "part-time". Any full time career fire fighter that works "part-time" is doing a disservice to his fellow career fire fighters and the union that represents them. Be wary of the Chief that supports this initiative since they are responsible for the cooporate bottom line, not yours!
    The notion of putting the circumstances of riding a bike or the fact that you own a gun in the same catagory as presumptive legislation in relation to the cancers that we are susceptible too and where that cancer may have been contracted is absolutely ludricrous. Educate yourself on the issues of fulltime vs partime. The "bottom line" that your Chief is responsible for may just be the catalyst that circumvents your status as full time.

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  7. Let's see if the IAFF can answer this, you take alot of our money and we see nothing for it here in Kentucky why is that? Most firefighters are going to have to work two jobs so what is the difference there are issues if they work FD or private sector. The bottom line is the necessity of proper pay which is not being addressed at any level, wake up and actually fight for the real stuff.

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  8. I can totally agree with not being able to volunteer in your department you work for and the IAFF (Idiots Against Friendly Firefighters)has maybe every right to hold that line.

    But, and the BIG BUT, my free time is my free time and nobody has a right to dictate to me what I can or can not do...

    IAFF can not infringe on anyone freedom in this country and the last I knew, we have the right to do as we will on free time.

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  9. When the IAFF stops their members from working in other non-union jobs during off hours they might have something to say! How many brothers on the job also work as non-union electricians, plumbers, masons etc. Don't they directly impact union brothers in different unions!Stop being so hypocritical!!

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  10. [quote]The notion of putting the circumstances of riding a bike or the fact that you own a gun in the same catagory as presumptive legislation in relation to the cancers that we are susceptible too and where that cancer may have been contracted is absolutely ludricrous. Educate yourself on the issues of fulltime vs partime.[end of quote]
    The blogger was not comparing riding a bike or owning guns to presumptive illnesses. They are two, separate issues. Bikes and guns were used as examples of "free" time activities that pose some risk.
    The point being made about presumptive illness was: if someone volunteering AND working full time as a FF were to get, say, cancer, how would it be determined who would pay? It could be presumed that it came from either.
    And if you haven't noticed, there are some egos involved with the issues of two-hatter. You have the president of the IAFF making it clear that he isn't going to be told what to do by the IAFC and the IAFC is saying that is hypocritical in the sense that Schaitberger is imposing his will on the union members.
    Slippery slope, we have.

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  11. Now that the IAFF backed candidate for President won the election, watch the IAFF curry favor with the new administration to usurp the rights of individuals to use their free time as theyk see fit, i.e., volunteering with fire and rescue departments. An earlier posting hit the nail on the head when they mentioned the "SCABS" who work full time as IAFF firefighters and moonlight as brickmasons, carpenters,electricians and plumbers, etc.

    You can thank the narrow minded nitwit from Prince Georges County who initiated this two hatter crap.

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  12. No; thank the "nitwit" from the union who said that you can volunteer at the hospital, but not at the fire department. You can work on the side as a plumber, carpenter, bricklayer; hell, you can even sell fire stuff and demonstrate it, but you can't "work" as a firefighter some where else.
    It is extremely hypocritical and intrusive.

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  13. The root cause of this issue is the IAFF governance model that allows for a constitution/bylaw modification to come from the floor of the bi-annual convention......who attends?
    The highly motivated members who have their own agenda.
    Maybe there needs to be a constituional convention so the IAFF can really be representative of their members versus just the ones who attend the convention??

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  14. You have to remember that the reason that they are at the convention is because they were elected by the membership to represent them. The fact that they soon forget how they got there is typical.
    It seems that, often times, some IAFF members act as if it is the IAFF paying their wages and benefits. There appears to be more loyalty extended to the union than to the city that the firefighters work for.
    Hats off to the union for making firefighting safer. That is exactly where the focus should be.
    It shouldn't be to find ways to limit a member's off duty time.
    As stated previously, the two hatter issue isn't about improved firefighter safety or anything else. It's about POWER.
    And the last time I looked, the power still belonged to the people.

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  15. However, (in Indiana) if you are paid less than $20,000 per year as a part-time or paid on call, you are still considered a volunteer as far as the medical workmans comp. Call it what you want, it still fits under the auspices as a volunteer UNLESS you have a separate fund which allows otherwise. There are only a few in Indiana that offer such a package. It is so much cheaper to use the medical workmans comp versus the full blown deal. Volunteers, their bills are paid for. If there is compensation, the workmans comp is based on what they have been paid. THEY ALL KNOW this and this is their choice. I am smarter than you think, don't tell me what I can or cannot do, unless the city/town/twp/fpd makes it a rule otherwise...then I hope the IAFF steps up in that particular situation.

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  16. I've been a volunteer FF/FO & NREMT-P for almost 25 yrs in a combination department. One Brother was right about the SCAB issue (I'm a union member connected to the AFL-CIO). The IAFF is trying to force a point that will bring them support but also much friction that is not needed. The Fire, EMS & Rescue Service has become so complex and the training needed continues to expand. More and more volunteers are finding it difficult to keep up with basic and advanced training while they raise funds and do all the normal tasks associated with a full time job and a full time family. Americans are volunteering less by all indications. Let's not try to suppress the spirit of Freedom that built America and the Fire Service in the first place.

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  17. I have been involved as a volunteer FF in my hometown for 29 years and employed as a career FF for 22 in an IAFF local. If it comes to the point of my local pushing the international's position then I will resign my membership in the IAFF immediately (we're almost 2 years w/o a contract anyway) The IAFF doesn't have a leg to stand on until, as was mentioned already, they also enforce off duty FF's working in other union trades ie plumbing, electrical, carpentry etc. Sometimes discretion is the biggest part of valor.

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  18. The simple answer is this: The IAFF is a club with certain rules. If you don't like the rules either change them or don't belong. If this continues, there will be two unions, the career professional that believes in what the IAFF Constitution and By-Laws say and one with all the rest. There's your Individual Rights.

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  19. Over the years, the IAFF has been instrumental in furthering the causes on issues that affects ALL firefighters; firefighter safety being just one of them.
    Unfortunately, with this position that Schaitberger and the international has taken, I feel that the IAFF is missing an opportunity to extend their reach for members at a time when their numbers are shrinking.
    And yes; they could very well be sewing the seeds for an off chute to represent "all the others". It might just be worth looking in to.

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  20. When the economy gets worse and furloughs hit the DC metro area - lets see how you like it!!! Would you enjoy me coming into your jurisdiction and volunteering to take extra money out of your pocket. We will certainley find out!!

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  21. The IAFF is a bunch of self centered individuals who care nothing at all about whether the citizens in communities are taken care of. All they are concerned about is money for their own pocket at the expenses of everyone else in this country. I am glad there are thousands of people who volunteer each and every day and I believe the volunteers do a much better job in extingushing the fires and saving property than the IAFF organization members. At least the voluteers are concerned about their fellow man and the citizens and not about their pocket books. The biggest problem in the fire service in the United States today is the IAFF. Without them America would be much better off. IAFF firmly believes that the more volunteer firefighters they take away from the service the better chance that IAFF will become much larger and more powerful. I say it is time to flush them down the toilet with the rest of the s___.

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  22. [QUOTE]I'm not sure how it works south of the 49th parallel but up here north of it the word "volunteer" gets tossed around with abandon and it is a misomer. There is no such thing as a volunteer as they get paid per call out, paid for training hours etc., so call it like it is; "part-time". [/QUOTE]

    Really? All volunteers get paid, huh? I've been doing it for almost 20 years and haven't seen a penny yet for it....

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  23. I have been volunteering for 5 years in a combination department. The local union here ensures their strangle hold by reminding their members "this is a closed department", even though we do have a volunteer program.
    The volunteers here pay the price by continue reduction in affectiveness and community involvement. I have even been told by a union member not to step on an engine without a union person there? When did the IAFF stop volunteers from staffing engines? They are killing the volunteer program and most of these guys came from the volunteer ranks. When did "Volunteer Firefighter" become a dirty word?
    It is all about money and control, the last contract approval was made mostly by the new kids that saw $$$ from the chief and didn't look at what they really were signing up for. Many of the paid crews piss and moan how screwed up the department is etc etc etc. The volunteers show up, want to do a great job, happy to be there and then go home to their full time job, often with little sleep and no 3 days off.
    We are forgetting who built this country's fire service and continue to provide a large majority of the fire protection support.
    I want my sons to know the value of volunteering in the community, selfless acts of kindness.

    It saddens me to see a group organize and diminish personal rights and detract from those that wish to give selflessly.

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  24. While I think it is an aweful shame that this is even a topic for such heated debate, I think that the IAFF has totally missed the spirit in which the rule was inacted. I may be wrong but it was my understanding the rule was made to protect IAFF members that were on departments that still had a volly program from being forced to act as a volly when called in from off duty, and not getting overtime, or to have partimmers or vollies take a shift that IAFF member could get overtime on.
    Yes it would be wrong to volunteer in the same Dept. you work at as it just opens up a can of worms. But if the IAFF member volunteers at a department that is not paid or UNIONIZED, than WHO CARES! To many people trying to run volunteers out of the business, and thats a crying shame. Whats the public going to think when the firehouse down the street had to close because they cant pay full time firefighters, and there house burnes down cause the clossest UNION dept. was a half hour away?
    Our job is the PEOPLE FIRST! remember that.

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  25. To the anonymous poster who said that volunteers are paid, I say you are correct. I get $2.00/hr. when I run. This buys me extras. I have a light bar, a siren, tools for my hip kit and other neat things. I think the Union is crazy. The union departments around us wouldn't even hire anyone if they didn't have the experience from our Volunteer dept.

    We put through school, teach them which end the water comes out, how to put it on the red stuff and how to be safe. The union takes them and tells them you can't go back there.

    There is no way that the bigger departments will move into the small towns. In fact, the bigger departments are cutting back and asking the Volunteers to come and help them.

    It is crazy.

    Oh, and it's pretty bad when you have to say things anonymously

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  26. What about those guys who itch to get out of the station in order to run to their off duty "activities" as plumbers, electricians, truck or taxi drivers, or even fire extinguisher sales? It is much more logical, and honorable to do off-duty career FD time in a small VFD. This should, by the way, be a totally distinct entity than the firefighter's employeer.
    Far too many of the second job guys do their utmost to get out of participating in training programs that run over several days, with the limp excuse that their off duty time is their's. Who's rear end is exposed if that training is for a tool system necessary to save a life, and because the off duty guy did not know how to use the tools, a victim dies?
    A note to Chief Harve Woods; I got into this in the Riva VFD also in 1958. Keep safe out there.

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  27. I work on a private ambulance service that is stationed in IAFF fire stations. I look at the addresses of the IAFF membership on the union boards and notice that most of the IAFF members don't even live in the community that pays their salary. Hell some of them live over 2 hours away because they don’t have any residency requirement. They live out in the area's that have volunteer or paid on call firefighters protecting their home and family. Also then many of those IAFF members volunteer their time or work as “paid on call” in their home community. When I ask them why they live somewhere other then the community that is their primary employer the response often comes up... "Well I couldn't afford to pay the taxes to live there and have such a nice house like I have living in XYZ-ville!" It is good enough to pay their paycheck but not pay property taxes for their pay and pension. I then find it even funnier then that when volunteer or POC bashing starts to happen they sit silent or show their true colors by bashing along with them. Don’t you think every volunteer would like to get paid to do their job? Don’t you think the communities would provide even better coverage by putting paid guys into their stations if they could afford it? EVERYONE on both sides need to get serious and focus on what needs to be worked on and fixed.

    1. This policy is meant to keep paid guys from being forced to volunteer in their own department that may be combo and should be supported by both the paid and volunteer side of the equation. It is wrong in this setting to force paid guys to volunteer their time.
    2. If the IAFF is serious about SCABS in anything then make it so that your members can’t work as SCABS in other union jobs and trades first… clean your own house before you start saying how others are dirty.
    3. IAFF needs to work on getting their membership better pay so that maybe your guys can live where they work.
    4. We are all brothers and sisters… this career/volunteer BS is just that… BS. Do your job on your job and leave the other stuff to personal choice. I can’t tell you how many career guys got their jobs after getting experience in volunteer organizations and how many volunteer guys got training from career guys volunteering in their department.

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  28. [quote] "Well I couldn't afford to pay the taxes to live there and have such a nice house like I have living in XYZ-ville!"[end of quote]
    That's an interesting comment when you consider that a portion of property taxes goes to fire protection. They work where their job is supported by the taxpayers, but they live where their community is supported by volunteers.
    Yeah; I have met some real good IAFF members and by themselves, they are very sociable. But, get a pack of them together and they are like wolves.
    This issue won't get any better as long as the international has someone as dictatorial as Schaitberger.

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  29. Everyone seams to be overlooking those areas that have "presumtive laws." All it takes is one job (city/township)saying we are not at fault the other one is. Now the union has to get involved to help this union brother keep his benifits. How many small locals can afford these types of legal bills. These types of cases are ussually handled at a local or state level.

    You all know very well that cities/townships (as well as thier insurance companies) would prefer to let you hang and not back you than pay out thousands or a million in medical/workman comp claims.

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  30. Maybe the IAFF should allow volunteers to join in some non-paid capacity . For instance, if the IAFF would allow volunteers to be represented by IAFF, then this 2hatter situation would go away. The IAFF could really gain a huge membership boost if they could get past this stance against volunteers. Why isn't the IAFF's goal to represent ALL firefighters in this country, instead of just the paid people.

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  31. I always thought we were there to help the public, and not worry if we are 'paid' or not. I have over 23 years of volunteer experience and have spent alot of my time obtaining the same level of certification , and more, than a local full time paid dept requires, but that is my choice. This helps the people that my dept covers. Some communities cannot support a full time dept and need the help anyone can give, since an emergency in a small rural community should be treated the same as it would in an urban community. My employer has never told me not to work on my roof, or take a cash paying job on my own time as I could be hurt and not be able to come to work, most firefighters who work 24 on 48 off have a second job also. Should this be prohibited also?

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  32. All of you guys who think that the IAFF needs a policy to prevent paid guys from volunteering in the same department in which they work for pay are misinformed. Federal employment law takes care of that. It is illegal to volunteer for the same agency for which you are paid to work. The practice used to be used to avoid overtime pay, but for decades now, its been the law. Many communities have paid multi-million dollar settlements over this issue. If your employer even allows you to do any work (firefighting, paperwork, meetings) they have to pay you, including overtime according to the rules. I do think that the two hatter rule is wrong. It is, however, a fact that unions and employers are increasingly trying to control off-duty behavior. Many departments require FF's to live in the district. An increasing number prohibit off-duty personal choices like tobacco. I wonder when it will cross the line so that somebody figures out that for any time they want to control, the employer will have to pay you. The two hatter rule was created to reduce or eliminate volunteers, particularly in places (such as Maryland) where they directly compete for paid jobs. The IAFF is really missing the big picture here. If they would embrace and recruit volunteers (who have all of the same work and safety issues) they could tap a market of about a million potential members.

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  33. I too agree that the IAFF is a bit full of themselves in regards to this and some other issues (ie their support of political candidates without seemingly asking the membership). As I understand it, an IAFF member is not supposed to volunteer in a locality where there is an active and goodstanding IAFF local. The consequences are that the offending IAFF member can be booted from the local he is in or should resign. This makes it pretty simple. If you choose to volunteer, do so. If your local chooses to pursue your dismissal, then thy do so. I am in Virginia (a right to work state, so a union isn't much here anyway at least for now until Obama and the Dem Congres will be expected to pay back the IAFF for support in the general election). The only real vocal issues around here seem to be with the 2 hatter issue between the DCFD local (#36 I believe) and those members of local 36 who volunteer in Prince Georges County MD. To be honest, the other restrictions, I really do not understand and have little concern for us here in VA. The issue came up around here again some years back when another local in NOVA area had some issues with volunteers in their jurisdiction that were members of another local. Most of the persons simply stated that they would drop from the IAff if that particular local pushed it.

    I personally do not volunteer anymore (did so for about 23 years)just because I do not have the time. If someone wants to, then do so, and whatever the IAff local wants to do, let them do it or simply resign from the IAFF. If enough do it, I suspect the IAFF will leave this issue alone and will beg for membership to come back. I do agree that there is some validity to the issues regarding injuries and such as I do rely on my primary job income (FD) for providing for my family.

    On the career vs volunteer side of the fence thing, there is much bantering back and forth from both sides. I think there are also anti-union associations and state organizations within the ranks of the volunteer fire service, in addition to the IAFF istself being the same way. So I would not make the IAFF the only guilty party in this whole larger than this issue of career vs volunteer fire service

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  34. Someone ought to remind the IAFF that it should look at Ford, GM and Chrysler. See what a hard-nose approach and unflexible work rules do to an industry. I bet thousands of auto workers would love to have jobs; the fire fighter's union is going to go the same way.

    Cities are going broke; the stimulus package is not going to fill the gap. The other shoe has not yet fallen -- the pension systems that support fire, police, and other city workers have lost huge amounts and cities will have to increase contributions 10, 20, 25%. How will they do that when they are already in deficit?

    Some easy ways to demonstrate the IAFF sincerity: 1) End 24-hour shifts. Who gets paid to sleep nowadays? 2) Staff at peak times; send people home during off-peak times (kind of like "just in time" delivery). Call-back for major events but for most departments, there is no call volume in the 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. hours; 3) Quit trying to justify engine and truck companies by running them for medical. Design the medical response around business practices although that would probably eliminate most truck companies today; 4) Chiefs had better begin running departments like businesses and end the "friend of the firefighter" clique -- they had better be managers who can work with firefighters or they'll be dinosaurs replaced by directors of public safety! 5) And why can't police be firefighters and vice-versa; apparently fire fighters can find time to train as bricklayers, fire extinguisher sales, construction company owners but are not smart enough to learn what a cop knows? BS!

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  35. As a former volunteer in a small AA Co. MD VFD, accepted respnder with the Annapolis VFD and later as a USAF FF, and later some 40 years in fire safety training, I cannot see the IAFF position. Many career FF's live in small communities that simply cannot afford fully paid FD's or even paid-on-call responders.
    Just some quick comments to Anonymous of February 8, 2009.
    1. 24hrs. on by 24 or 48hrs. off is historic around the world. There are variations; 12 on by 24 or 36 off, 3 X 8, etc. But maybe the IAFF could learn from the fire services, and the labor unions, here in Spain that do 24 hrs. on by 72 or 96 hrs. off, hired cleaning personnel in the stations, training during duty hours because off duty time is sacred in order to do those off duty activities such as electricians, plumbers, etc. Many Spanish FF's go to their stations to rest.
    2. As they are public service government employees, their job security is absolute, they cannot be fired unless the commit really serious actions or criminal activities (two or more incomes are tolertated as long as the tax collector doesn't find out).
    3. The poli-firefighter or fire-cop was tried here with utterly desastrous results; disfunction on both sides.
    Keep safe over there.

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