Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Volunteers; Who Is Listening?

Most issues that exist with volunteer fire departments occur at the local level and in many states where you have a state-wide response program; at the state level.

So, where do you turn when assistance is needed?

Where I live, we have a regional organization that meets every other month and naturally, local issues will become a part of the meeting records.

If you are plugged in at the state level, several organizations, such as the state fire chiefs association, an association of fire protection districts and a state firefighters association are there to address state issues.

Beyond that, you may be fortunate enough to have a working relationship with your state representatives.

When you study this political structure, it is easy to feel that a solution to your particular problem is beyond your reach. But, it shouldn’t be.

Where do you go-who do you turn to-to get your issue resolved?

You know; there was a time some years ago when volunteer fire departments had the single, largest voting block in their respective communities. It may feel uncomfortable to some who are reading this, but “old school” also meant “old school politics”, where connections in a community wielded power and fire departments had it.

What happened?

Do you ever ask yourself “why does the smaller demographic in the fire service yield the most power? Career firefighters in this country make up less than 30% of the nation’s firefighters; yet, they pack a powerful voice. It is most likely because of their affiliation with the IAFF.

What do the volunteers have besides the National Volunteer Fire Council?

Will the NVFC come in and arbitrate a local disagreement?


I mean; it took them TEN years to issue a white paper
(http://www.nvfc.org/files/documents/Volunteer_Training_White_Paper.pdf) on volunteer firefighter training. When I say that it took ten years, I mean that, many of us have been voicing concerns about training, recruitment and retention since at least the year 2000.

It is a very good paper and I don’t want to come off as overly critical. They are very blunt in the paper. They identify three critical areas: Time Constraints, Resource Constraints and Leadership as critical areas of impediment to training objectives. My favorite phrase from the paper is:

Unfortunately, a large number of volunteer fire departments are still operating with personnel who are not trained to a level consistent with national consensus standards for basic firefighting preparedness. This can lead to ineffective and unsafe responses that put lives and property at risk.

Have we not discussed this many times on the many fire website discussion pages? Are any of the organizations “browsing”? Or do they need an email shot right to their inbox?

So, NVFC is calling for volunteer firefighters to be trained to a national consensus standard that is known as NFPA 1001. I have a suggestion for them…

If they want departments trained to this standard-and many of us already are-then they should offer a free membership into NFPA if they are currently using NFIRS.

If the information from NFIRS is so critical to our fire service-and for the record, I believe that it is-then; it should be worth the price of admission into the NFPA.

My fire department is a member of the NFPA, but let’s face it; it’s pay as you go.

Anyone who is willing to meet NFPA standards should be incentified and I don’t mean by the threat of jail for not doing so.

Small, volunteer departments need help and it shouldn’t have to cost them money that they don’t have. They cannot afford consultants, membership fees and training programs at $1500 a pop.

Our national organizations want compliance from volunteer fire departments. Are they willing to fund their mandates?

What about equipment manufacturers? Maybe instead of wining and dining prospective customers, they can cut back there and instead, offer a ten year membership in NFPA if the fire department purchases equipment from them. Or they could offer IFSTA training programs as an alternative.

What about the scholarship programs where only one firefighter benefits from the money? Instead of offering a scholarship, sponsor a fire department for NFPA membership.

Most of us know what the problems are and I understand that, in many cases, simply throwing money at it won’t fix it.

But, like we found out in Illinois, if you take it to the fire departments, they will respond…and in record numbers. Illinois uses up every training program dollar allocated every year.

If you don’t want to take my word for it, then contact Dave Clark, Deputy Director of the Illinois Fire Service Institute (IFSI).

They have been listening to us for years.

Who is listening to you?


This article is protected by federal copyright laws. It cannot be reproduced in any form without the expressed, written permission of the author, Art Goodrich a.k.a. ChiefReason.

Please go to www.fireemsblogs.com and visit my blog at www.chiefreasonart.com.
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  1. I agree 100%. I belong to a very small rural all volunteer fire department that I am proud to be a member of but was concerned about our training or should I say lack of. A 36 hour course does not cut it especially since our department has been over ran with meth-lab calls and non of the members except for our Deputy Chief has been trained in Haz-Mat. I myself am an EMT and Engineer for our department and did take advantage of a state certification class to become the Engineer and the only reason I was able to do that was because I was awarded a grant. We come from a very poverty stricken area with over 85% of our community being unemployed so there is no possibility for fund raising. Several of our firefighters fall within those that are unemployed and our operations budget barely pays our operating expenses so there is nothing left for training. I even paid to put myself through EMT school because the department could not fund it. So last year I talked our chief into letting me start doing some grant writing, he did not think we would ever get anything but luckily I was successful enough to get a couple much needed grants for equipment and this year it looks like we are in the running for an AFG grant which I asked for 12 of our members to be put through the 120 class. We missed out on the Fire Station grant and trying to run out of a station that does not have any running water or bathroom facilities and you can actually see the daylight shining in through the cracks in the walls that was probably the one that was needed the most. I know that we are not a large area but I feel if we are volunteering for our community then the least the State or even the Federal Government can do is be willing to give us the training to adequately perform our duties. Our hearts totally belong to this community and we all love what we do but sometimes it makes it hard for me to understand why they don't stand behind their citizens that are trying to protect and serve their communities.

  2. well, i tell you who has your back, no one in a state where 90% of the dept are vol. you better watch out for yourself because the state dosent care. the city dont care. all they see is dollars we spend, they want the work done for free, the training on your own time, but complain when thing break down or go wrong oh but dont forget the cops that are part time they pay 15$ hour to when my life and time is just as important as theres is

  3. We are 80% volunteer in this state. Last year, more than half of the training classes taught through the fire service institute were taught AWAY from the institute. They put on the training at the fire departments. We have a state fire service caucus. We have a state fire service committee, chaired by a state legislator who has a passion for the fire service. His son is a firefighter and his daughter is a paramedic. Our fire district has not turned us away for any reasonable request and supports our fundraisers in record numbers every year. But, it didn't happen overnight and you cannot give up trying to gain support and funding. You have to partner with your politicians, stay in front of them, be respectful, pick your opening and go. Too many people wind up quitting and bitter. It doesn't have to be that way. There has to be a catalyst for change.

  4. as anyone wondered why communities will pay for police protection but not fire service professionals. what is the difference, do we have volunteer cops? it is 2010 folks, 9 years ago we were attacked by terrorists, to do this job properly it takes fully trained, funded paid personnel.

  5. I have been a firefighter for 7 years now; we have not had the opportunity to attend any trainings within the last 6+ years. We have 6 paid firefighters to cover an area the size of the state of Maine. I am a volunteer and I put 100% into every call that I respond too. I live on the Navajo Reservation, the largest of all Native American Tribes. The fire departments on the Navajo Reservation are at the last of anyone's concerns when it comes to budgeting for the firefighters. Where do we turn for help? I have no idea, we've tried to voice our concerns over and over again. Nobody wants to listen and truly understand the job of a firefighter. We do what we can to stay afloat, I am thankful we have career firefighters that know what they are doing and training us with what we have available.


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