According to the National Volunteer Fire Council, volunteers make up 72 percent of the firefighters in the United States, and since 1984 there has been a decline of almost 10 percent in the number of volunteers serving our country today. With the diversity in the type of emergencies fire departments are responding to today, and an increase in not only call volumes but public expectations, and a subsequent decrease in available funding, the decline in number of volunteer firefighters is a very serious issue and a challenge we need to face.
Yes it is true, children are no longer following in the family traditions that once was the life blood of the volunteer fire service. Today's youth are more likely to be in front of an Xbox or dreaming of a glorious six figure salary that will fall into their lap, than hanging out at the fire station or planning on a fire service career. And young adults have a great deal on their plate in order to get their life's started and raise a family in today's economy and the "haves-have not" society. There is a whole laundry list of reasons why it is believed that the number of volunteers have declined over the years. But we cannot afford to throw our hands up and point fingers at problems, we need to address them.
Having been a recruiter for the United States Marine Corps, and during the three years of that duty having recruited over 70 men and woman into the ranks of what many would arguably (not me) say is the toughest branch of the military service, I know that there are volunteers out in your community that are being unrealized and opportunities to fill your ranks missed, and numbers of the volunteer force will continue to decline.
There is a lot to be learned by the fire service on how the Marine Corps conducts its recruiting and how they are able to field a professional and elite fighting force that is among the most respected in the United States as well as across the globe. There is a lot for the fire service to learn; there is also a lot that needs to do in order to fill the ranks of our service which is among the most respected and trusted professions in the world. What are they doing that we are not?
There is a significant parallel between the Marine Corps and the fire service. The character makeup that compels a person to join one, is the very same character that brings them to join the other. Both agencies have dangerous missions, involve selfless service, and require a great deal of sacrifice for the greater good. They are both elite organizations, a band of brothers and sisters, comprised of people who no longer want to be just another face in the crowd but want to belong to an organization whose mission is bigger than itself.
So how is it that a Marine recruiter can talk someone into giving up four years of their life to the service of our country, leaving the security of all they know for the unknown and loved ones behind to face some of the toughest, most uncomfortable days they will experience in their life; but you can't seem to get your neighbors to give up a few hours a week to volunteer with your fire department and serve their community?
Out of the more than 70 people I recruited into the ranks of the Marine Corps, less than five walked into my office with a pen in hand, and during my years in the Marine Corps we often joked when the sergeant was not around that many of us had absolutely no intentions whatsoever of joining the Marines. Yet there we were. We joined, we served, and we would not trade one day of our time in the Marine Corps for anything, and for many those days were the proudest and most memorable days of their life. How did we cross over from going about our daily lives that we thought we had all figured out and no life altering plans to speak of to joining the Marines Corps?