Lessons from the Circus - Part IV: Volunteers are Important

There is a place in Sarasota where you can go to see an old-time circus. However, it is a circus with a difference. It is called the Sailor Circus and is located on the grounds of the old Sarasota High School.


It did not take long for my creative juices to kick in. It was obvious to me that the PAL Sailor Circus has a great deal in common with all of us in the volunteer fire service. The young people doing the performing are backed up by network of volunteers who perform a wide range of support functions. Like our fire departments, nothing happens unless a volunteer steps forward to make it happen.

From the lady who sold me the t-shirts for my daughters, to the gentleman who sold me my ice cone, to the lady who sold me my hot dog, to the gentlemen who were serving as the safety spotters for the young ladies who were riding the bicycles in the high wire act, all were volunteers. Like you and I, they have made a pledge to something in which they believe.

Their commitment of time comes out of whatever moments they have left over after working to make a living and taking time to be with their families. There are also cross-generational ties. There are families who come together and enjoy being a part of the circus. I spoke with a Dad who plays saxophone in the band, along with his wife and daughter who are flute players. There are also adult coaches who learned their skills as student members of the circus in years past. They are now passing on what they have learned over the years to a new generation, just like my daughter Katie and I in the Adelphia Fire Company.

These fine folks also have the same organizational problems as we do in the volunteer fire service. There is a constant need for fund-raising efforts in order to maintain the facility and buy new equipment. There is also a capital funding-raising effort to conduct some major repairs and renovations at their performance venue. The PAL has managed to raise a shade more than $1 million over the past few years; however the need remains for an additional $1 million to fully complete the rebuilding effort. While the task at hand seems daunting, it is difficult to believe that these fine folks will not succeed.

Are these folks any different than you and me? I do not think so. In my days as a volunteer fireman I have served pancakes, spun game wheels at our carnival, helped my wife at the spaghetti dinner, counted money, served as an announcer, and helped to stuff and address fund-raising envelopes. You and I do what we must in order to be sure that our department stands ready to assist the citizens of our fire district.

Let me assure you that it is getting harder and harder to find dedicated people willing to join our lifesaving efforts. I am also fairly certain that the folks at the Sailor Circus are having troubles raising money and finding active volunteers. But guess what my friends, in both of our cases, the show must go on. I can only hope that we are never forced to miss a performance for the want of people, tools, or talent. For you see, if our show does not go on, people might perish.

Like the people at the Sailor Circus in Sarasota, you and I must continue to find and recruit dedicated volunteers. Like the circus folks, we need to train safely and diligently, so that when we are called upon to perform, our show will go on and everyone will get to go home. Yes my friend, there are lots of lessons which we can learn in this life, if we just choose to pay attention. It just happens that my lessons this week were learned at the circus.

HARRY R. CARTER, Ph.D., CFO, MIFireE, a Firehouse.com Contributing Editor, is a municipal fire protection consultant based in Adelphia, NJ. Dr. Carter retired from the Newark, NJ, Fire Department and is a past chief and active life member of the Adelphia Fire Company. He recently published Leadership: A View from the Trenches and Living My Dream: Dr. Harry Carter's 2006 FIRE Act Road Trip. You can reach Harry by e-mail at drharrycarter@optonline.net.