There's an old saying that you were given two ears, but only one mouth for a reason — that you are supposed to listen twice as much as you talk. As chairman of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) Volunteer & Combination Officers Section (VCOS), I am often called on to comment on the state of the fire service and speak on behalf of the departments we represent as a whole. That's certainly easier said than done when you consider some of the differences among the departments that fall under that broad brush, such as the number of people, if any, who are paid for their services, how their payment is determined, department size, location and response area, type of community, resources, services provided and so on.
VCOS has teamed with Firehouse® Magazine to conduct a survey of chiefs of combination fire departments. We asked questions about how their organizations operate, how members are compensated and the budgets they are working with to help us get a better handle on what's going on within these departments. Even in this new world of instant information, these compiled facts and figures involving the combination fire service did not exist until now. That's why the responses we received are so critical to gaining a better understanding of the changing dynamics of the fire service.
As a fire chief, you are going to know what's going on in your department and you'll probably know about your neighboring departments as well. Then, as you become more involved within your county, state or region, you get a better feel for what's going in those areas. But the challenge of being involved on the national level is that there is so much ground to cover and the vast majority of chief officers don't fully understand the importance of reaching out beyond those "normal" borders.
The biggest strength VCOS has as an organization is that its board of directors is made up of 10 chief officers from throughout the country, from California to Connecticut and from Montana to Texas. By reaching out from their bases of operations, the directors bring different perspectives to the table. That, combined with the fact that our nearly 3,000-member organization is active with chief officers who strive to push issues and positively impact the fire service as a whole, makes it easier for us to understand the topics that need to be addressed.
Still, though, with all that we collectively know (and all that we think we collectively know), it's sometimes difficult for us to communicate our positions and needs to those outside the fire service because they frankly don't look at things through the eyes of a firefighter. How many times have you taken what to you was an obvious need up the chain of command, but ran into obstructions from officials, legislators or other politicians because you did not speak their language? Generally, these people want to see data that supports the case. So when we have difficulty providing that data, we make things hard on ourselves.
For those of you who participated in this survey and are active on the local, state and/or national levels, I offer a heartfelt thank you on behalf of all your brother and sister firefighters. VCOS — as well as other IAFC sections, divisions and national organizations — is here to help your voice be heard. We have two ears ready to listen.
—Chief Timothy Wall, North Farms Volunteer Fire Department, Wallingford, CT Chairman, Volunteer & Combination Officers Section, International Assn. of Fire Chiefs
Department 2010 Run Survey
Firehouse® Magazine compiles its first Combination Fire Department Run Survey, featuring statistics on apparatus fleets, budgets, membership, and 2010 fire and EMS calls. We thank the Volunteer & Combination Officers Section (VCOS) of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) and the section chairman, Chief Timothy Wall, for their assistance in compiling the data, and we thank the chiefs and departments that participated. To see the entire survey results, please go to http://www.firehouse.com/2010ComboSurvey.