Volunteer Leadership Roundtable

Firehouse® Magazine is proud to present our first “Volunteer Leadership Roundtable,” featuring the views of a cross-section of leaders from the volunteer fire-rescue service. These are people who have stepped forward to take on demanding roles and responsibilities at a challenging time for volunteer agencies. We’re pleased to share with you their opinions on such topics as budgeting, staffing, training, response times, and health and safety.

We thank the participants for taking the time to join in the roundtable and speak frankly about topics of great importance to their departments and to the fire service as a whole.

The participants are:

Chief Adrian Borry Lincoln Fire Company No. 1
Ephrata, PA

Adrian L. Borry, CFPS, has served since 1984 with Lincoln Fire Company No. 1 and as chief since 1999. He also has been a career firefighter with the Lebanon, PA, Bureau of Fire for the past 10 years. He holds an associate’s degree in fire science from Harrisburg Area Community College and is a Certified Fire Protection Specialist (CFPS), Fire Officer I, Fire Service Instructor I, Firefighter III, EMT and Hazmat Technician.

Chief Robert Devonshire Jr. Strasburg Fire Company No. 1
Strasburg, PA

Robert R. Devonshire Jr., a firefighter since 1985, is chief of Strasburg Fire Company No. 1. A chief officer since 1992, Devonshire also has served as chief of the Refton, PA, Community Fire Company. He is certified as a Firefighter II, Instructor II and Firefighter I Evaluator, and is working to become a Pennsylvania State Fire Academy-approved Fire Service Instructor. He is also past president and current board member of the Lancaster County Fire Chiefs Association Inc., member of the Lancaster County Fireman’s Association Inc., member of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) and life member of the Refton Fire Company, and was part of the design committee of the Lancaster County Public Safety Training Center on behalf of the Lancaster County Fire Chiefs Association. He was the 2003 Firefighter of the Year for Lancaster County as presented by the Lancaster County Fireman’s Association.

Fire Marshal Mike Jackson Astoria Fire Department
Astoria, OR

Mike Jackson has been the fire marshal for the Astoria Fire Department since May 2004. The Astoria Fire Department is a combination volunteer/career department providing full-service emergency response and prevention activities to a community of 10,000 residents in northwest Oregon. Jackson holds a bachelor of science degree in fire service administration from Eastern Kentucky University and his experience includes both volunteer and career positions in fire suppression, EMS, fire prevention, management and consultant activities with four fire departments serving rural, suburban and urban areas in Oregon, Indiana, Ohio and Idaho.

Chief Don Turno Aiken County Hazardous Materials Team
Aiken County, SC

Don Turno, MBA, CFPS, has been in the fire service for 25 years. He has been a member of the Aiken County Hazardous Materials Team for 10 years and its chief for five. He also volunteers with Aiken Public Safety (police and fire) and is a member of the board of directors of the Beech Island Fire Department. Turno is a graduate of the University of South Carolina, Oklahoma State University and University of Maryland with degrees in criminal justice, fire protection engineering and fire protection management. He also holds a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Phoenix and is in his second year of the Executive Fire Officer Program (EFOP) at the National Fire Academy. Turno is an instructor at the National Fire Academy and Aiken Technical College, a Certified Fire Protection Specialist (CFPS) and certified Fire Instructor and Deputy Fire Marshal/Fire Investigator. He is a senior fire protection engineer with Westinghouse Savannah River, a prime contractor for the U.S. Department of Energy. He also has served on National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) code committees and International Fire Service Training Association (IFSTA) validation committees.

In your opinion, what type of training does your department need? What are your department’s vital training issues?


Devonshire: Basics! What more can be said? My company was into confined-space rescue for several years and it was getting harder and harder to get people to commit to train and be good at all the tasks associated with a specialty. We took a good, hard look at our situation and the number of responses that we ran that utilized a confined-space rescue team, and the numbers were not there. A simple risk assessment of a high-risk/low-frequency task was proof enough that we made a course change and got out of the confined-space business and let the companies that really jumped into this do what they are good at. Our county now has a collapse team that specializes in collapse, confined-space and trench rescue. We went back to basics and train hard in those areas – simple tasks like hoseline advancement, auto extrication and the other day-to-day routine calls that we take for granted.

Jackson: Our organization has a variety of training needs. The biggest needs that we have are to provide a variety of training to our personnel with different levels of experience. We have a need to expand our regular drills to provide company officer and leadership training to potential officer candidates, while providing effective drills and training for less-experienced members. We need additional accessible training that provides volunteers an opportunity to reach goals toward fire service instructor and officer functions. As a fairly new volunteer organization, it is difficult to provide resources and instructors to accomplish different tasks for groups that need different training. Additionally, our department and departments around us need to organize and come together for mutual aid training. With the limited resources each department has, we rely heavily on mutual aid at fire incidents. We have been unable to establish common drill times other than occasional disaster drills. Unfortunately, we are not as prepared as we should be to operate together effectively at more routine incidents.

Turno: I would like for the department to have more time and resources for practical hands-on training. Some of the vital issues are taking advantage of new technology to provide good-quality and practical training to enhance classroom and field exercises. Another vital issue is the cooperation and teamwork between the public and private sectors. We need to form partnerships and take advantage of the strengths each can bring to the table. I have been involved with a local technical college that is looking into building an emergency services training facility. This facility will be for industrial and emergency service organizations to use.

Has your response time been increasing? If so, why?


Devonshire: Over the last four years our times have generally stayed the same. My hardest time of the day is 7 to 8 A.M., at shift change, when my day-shift guys have left for work and my night-shift guys are not home yet.

Jackson: Our response times have stayed consistent over the past few years. Like most combination or volunteer organizations, we have difficulties getting volunteer companies staffed during daytime hours.

Turno: Currently, our response time has remained the same.

Do you have automatic aid agreements with neighboring departments? Do they work?


Devonshire: We do not have written automatic aid agreements. Each department sets up its response requirements and we all respond as dispatched for mutual aid requests. This has been the practice for many years and I would say it appears to work for our situation.

Jackson: We have a county-wide mutual aid plan that includes all fire organizations in the county. Unfortunately, the current system must be initiated by the first-due agency. When the system is initiated, pre-determined responses are initiated for working fire and additional alarm requests. Additionally, we are part of a maritime fire safety consortium for response to ship fire emergencies along the Columbia River.

Turno: Yes. We have agreements with all the agencies surrounding us and they do work and have worked quite well. We try very hard to keep these agreements and review them on an annual basis.

Does your department respond more on mutual or does that aid come to you more often?


Devonshire: I would say our mutual aid is about even both ways. Our alarm assignments call for automatic mutual aid on any structure fire, hazardous material response or technical rescue. The same can be said for my neighboring departments as well.

Jackson: Our mutual aid is a fairly even split between receiving and giving.

Turno: We have been fortunate in that we tend to supply aid more than we request it. However, we do not let this affect our attitude toward others or ourselves.

Are your members required to take physical examinations? If so, at what timetable?


Devonshire: We have not required our members to have a physical at this time. We have begun to take a harder look at firefighter safety and have been stepping through this process one step at a time and have not gotten to this subject as of yet. I would assume that it is only a matter of time.

Jackson: Our volunteer members take a complete physical provided by our department at the time of joining and then repeat the complete physical every two years by the department physician. When a member reaches the age of 40, physicals are given annually. In addition to physicals, each member completes an SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus) work-rate drill that monitors air consumption as well as pre- and post-drill vitals with results submitted to the department physician with a completed health questionnaire.

Turno: Yes, we have annual physicals. As a result of these tests, we have seen a need to develop some type of physical fitness program. We are also in the process of reinstituting a stress test and looking into some form of annual agility test.

Have you applied for a federal FIRE Act grant? If so, what was the grant to be used for?


Devonshire: Yes, each year we have applied for a grant. We received a grant the second year for personal facepieces, some additional SCBA units, respirators, Tyvek suits, nitrile gloves and some other smaller hazmat response PPE (personal protective equipment). This year, we are applying for fire police equipment so that we can be more effective in preventing firefighters and fire police from being struck on the roadways; after all, they are our first line of defense.

Jackson: Our most recent grant application and award was for fiscal year 2004 in the area of firefighter safety. The funding provided from the grant will be used for acquisition of a thermal imaging camera to augment our current early-model camera that has become well used and less reliable. Additionally, funds will be used to obtain 10 additional sets of turnout gear to help equip our growing numbers of volunteers.

We have also submitted a grant application for the prevention-specific grant program for an all-hazard education trailer. Our FIRE Act grant application for this fiscal year will be aimed toward better equipping our department for response to confined-space and trench-collapse rescue situations.

Confined-space and collapse-rescue situations are a significant concern for our community due to our proximity with the Cascadia Subduction Zone and local earthquake potential.

Turno: We purchased monitoring equipment, protective suits and decon equipment.

What is the average age of your fleet? Are you increasing the fleet or downsizing?


We also need a vehicle to help with our work as a WMD decontamination response team.

Devonshire: 11.25 years old. We are currently looking at replacing our oldest piece in 2009. This is our oldest pumper and would be 27 years old at the time it would be replaced. This would also fall into our long-term plan that will allow us to replace apparatus every 21 years. While this is outside of the 21-year plan by six years, it will place us on a timeline that will be financially feasible for us. At this time, we are not looking to increase our fleet beyond its current capacity.

Jackson: The average age of our fleet is 18 years. At this time, several vehicles are in need of replacement. Our plans for the current time involve only fleet replacement and do not include increasing or downsizing the fleet.

Turno: Our oldest is about 15 years old. We will not necessarily increase our fleet, but would like to purchase one replacement vehicle and then use this older vehicle as a reserve.

Can your department handle specialized rescues or responses to WMD (weapons of mass destruction) incidents, or hazardous materials, foam or water emergencies? Please explain.


Devonshire: This is sort of a trick answer. I will say that yes, we can handle these responses. While we would not handle them solely on our own, through mutual aid and the use of local resources, we could respond to and effectively mitigate any of these responses.

Jackson: Our department is equipped by the State of Oregon to serve as a Regional Hazardous Material Response Team, serving four counties. The resources provided to us by the State of Oregon equip our department to handle most hazardous materials incidents in our area. As part of the Maritime Fire Safety Association and in conjunction with our local Port Authority, we have some specialized equipment and training for response to maritime fire incidents. Our department operates a 9,000-gpm fire boat and has equipment that, when combined with other member agencies, provides for effective response to shipboard fires on vessels of various sizes in our jurisdiction.

The Astoria Fire Department is equipped for limited WMD response through equipment and training provided to our hazardous materials team. Our jurisdiction is surrounded on two sides by navigable waterways with a presence from the United States Coast Guard, Clatsop County Sheriff’s Office and Oregon State Police, all providing water rescue. At this time, we do not have personnel, equipment or training resources for response in areas such as water rescue or other specialized rescue fields.

Turno: Yes, since this is the primary role for our department. We are trained in hazardous material, WMD and COBRA (chemical, ordnance, biological and radiological threats).

If there was one safety item on your shopping list that you couldn’t purchase before, and now you are able to, what would that be?


Devonshire: Not so much of a “purchasable” item, but I would ask for more staffing. In order to be safe in our operations, I need more staffing at the scene quicker to accomplish all of the tasks that need to be conducted simultaneously. The staffing required for interior attack, rescue, ventilation, establishing a secured water supply, backup lines, rapid intervention teams and enough command structure support staff on a typical residential structure fire requires the use of many of my mutual aid departments.This translates into time spent waiting to secure enough personnel to make an effective and safe fire attack. I am sure many would argue the fact that a quick, aggressive attack can thwart the spread of the fire until reinforcements arrive; however, is it worth the risk of injury or the death of a firefighter for being aggressive when conditions deteriorate rapidly due to short cuts in proper fire attack? Not at all.

Jackson: A second thermal imager would be a priority purchase for our department if funds were available. Our current imager is an early model and carried on our career engine.

Turno: No. Currently, I feel we have what we need. However, during our last response, I did see smaller personal monitoring systems that the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and Coast Guard were using and am budgeting for them in my next budget.

Do you have more manpower now or five years ago? Do you have adequate staffing on your apparatus?


Devonshire: We have been holding steady over the last five years. Is the staffing adequate? No. There are not enough staff members to cover all the bases within the first few minutes to operate safely and effectively. Does this mean we are conducting unsafe and risky fire attacks? In the big picture, we are definitely stretching the envelope. We have added additional mutual aid companies on our initial dispatches to reported structure fires to make up the difference and take a proactive approach. Again, this adds to the time that is required to assemble the necessary staffing to make a safe, effective, coordinated interior fire attack.

Jackson: We have more manpower now than we did five years ago. We are a combination department with one staffed engine 24 hours a day that has a minimum staffing level of two, with one officer, two firefighters and an intern firefighter assigned. Our first-out engine is oftentimes understaffed with our minimum staffing of two. Our volunteer engine/quint companies are regularly staffed with four to five people each after 6 P.M. on weekdays and on weekends. Our first-out staffing is oftentimes inadequate for an initial attack and staffing of subsequent companies is often inadequate during daytime hours on weekdays. Our numbers in the evenings are usually adequate. Our volunteer staff numbers have been steadily increasing over the last year, helping our apparatus staffing.

Turno: Yes. I am at full staff for my department and feel I have adequate staffing. We are constantly looking at ways to improve our service delivery and put more personnel on the scene in a timely manner.

Do you have written standard operating guidelines (SOGs) and standard operating procedures (SOPs)?


Devonshire: Yes, after about a two-year effort of taking a good hard look at what we had and bringing it up to where it needs to be, we now have a manual of both policies and procedures. Our manual covers a lot of area. After all the work and effort, we also know that there are areas that are not addressed and we will be looking at them as well as revisiting what we have for effectiveness and to make sure that we are staying current. We made it a requirement of the manual that we will revisit them on a regular basis to ensure that they stay current.

Jackson: We have written standard operating procedures that address most department activities and responses. We are in the process of updating our procedures to better address the specific needs of volunteer and career members.

Turno: Yes. We review each procedure at least on a biannual basis and require that before any new policy, procedure or equipment is put into place we have had training and communicated it to our members. On an annual basis, each member is required to review our policy and procedure manual and sign a form stating so.

Do your personnel receive clothing allowances, incentives or retirement benefits? If they receive other benefits, please describe them.


Devonshire: We offer all of our members and their families free tickets to our annual banquet. The only requirement is that they meet a minimum amount of participation in calls and fundraisers. Not a big incentive, but it is a great time of fellowship and brotherhood. That can go a long way.

Jackson: Our volunteer members receive a nominal pay incentive of $3 per call or training activity along with issued uniforms and department apparel. Additionally, our volunteer members are provided with a length-of-service incentive program. The program involves a general contribution to an investment account that the city makes annually and a point system where volunteers start earning points after two years for longevity, response, training, certification level and involvement. When a volunteer has 15 years of service, they can draw their portion of the fund, based on points.

Turno: We provide our members with uniforms each year or as necessary. Currently, we have retirement benefits, but no incentives.

What types of training do you provide your junior officers so they can be prepared to be the fire chief in the future?


Devonshire: We try to have them take the position of incident commander at smaller-scale calls and shadow them so that they can be guided through a live incident by a senior officer. We send them through incident command training. While we do not run a large volume of calls annually, we try to get them as much first-hand experience as we can. My long-term goal is to have each officer know each other’s job so that when the time comes, the change is seamless. This is not always easy to accomplish in a smaller department due to time restraints, but we do the best we can.

Jackson: We have partnered with our local community college to try to encourage and provide incentives for our members to pursue a fire service degree through the local community college. Additionally, our department coordinates and provides resources to send our members to state-sponsored training sessions, regional fire schools and county-wide sponsored training courses. We are currently working to revise our promotional process and volunteer rank structure to foster personal and professional development through defined promotional processes and attainable goals for volunteer members.

Turno: We have a mentor program, training guidelines and annual reviews to help ensure each member is ready for the next level. I believe that each member should be trained to the next level of management so when the time comes, they are ready and don’t have to learn when they get there. I try to get as many members involved with as much of the organization as I can. There is no better training than experience.

If you had the power to change one thing about the volunteer fire service, what would it be?


Devonshire: Better municipal support. My biggest challenge is funding. If I look at the financial support offered by the residents and the municipalities that we serve, the view is bleak. When I am forced to give up a month each year and set aside training to prepare for our one of our main fundraisers, I have to wonder where our priorities are.

We, the volunteer fire service, are asked to perform to the same level as our brothers and sisters in paid departments, expected to place ourselves in harm’s way, risk life and limb, take time away from our families to attend training, conferences and seminars and yet we continue to be underfunded and must raise our own funding just to pay the electric bill at the firehouse. As long as we continue to set training aside to do fundraisers, we will continue to annually bury over 100 of our own. It never ceases to amaze me that we can pull off a fundraiser like a breakfast with the precision of a military drill team and yet we continue to get tripped up on the simple day-to-day operations at an emergency scene.

We utilize a professional mailing service to do our annual fund drive. We have never seen, nor do I expect ever will see, a 100% return from the citizens we serve.

A good friend of mine uses the term “fair, firm and consistent” many times for a wide variety of subjects. Nothing I could say would be a truer statement than “all I am asking for is to be treated fairly, firmly and consistently with the rest of the emergency services that we stand side by side with during any given emergency event.” I could almost certainly guarantee any municipal official that I can provide you with a better service to the people of our community if I could concentrate on three things: training, planning and execution.

Jackson: If I could, I would break the barriers between volunteer and career personnel. One problem that I see is a strong effort to push the two together and pretend that volunteer and career personnel are exactly the same and should be held to the exact same standards. Volunteers and career personnel are not the same and there is absolutely no shame in that! People who volunteer their time to us and their communities should be given more opportunities with different standards that are designed to meet their needs. A different set of standards does not mean that volunteers could not achieve the same certifications, appreciation and training as career members. Different standards would simply allow them to accomplish these things in a system that is designed for them on a time-table that fits their schedule.

I would start to reach out to volunteers by changing the training structure for the volunteer fire service to allow volunteers to obtain certifications and training in a system designed to be modular. Currently, training standards, courses, and certifications are designed to cater better to career personnel than volunteers. As we raise the bar for professionalism in our industry, we cannot leave volunteer members behind. We need to continue to strive for higher standards and better training, while accepting that training takes time and we need to adjust to meet the complex schedules and needs of our volunteers.

Training for advancement and higher levels of certification may have to be more modular and spread over longer time periods to allow our hard working volunteers to meet these standards over time. By spreading some of this training out and dividing training objectives into smaller modules, our volunteers could continually advance, stay motivated and achieve higher levels of training and certification over a period of time.

Turno: The one thing I would change is that all volunteers would take a serious look at themselves and the service they provide and understand that to ensure they are providing the best service to the community, they may need to move from a volunteer-based service to one that is either a career or combination. Another option is that some volunteer departments may need to merge to better provide service. This is because it is getting harder and harder to find volunteers who have the time and money to complete all the requirements required of us to stay proficient at what we do. Money is also a bigger issue and many communities just don’t have the financial resources to support the level required.

Is there is any other topic regarding the volunteer fire service about which you feel strongly? If so, please describe.


Devonshire: To me, the bottom line issue is training. We need to concentrate more on training than ever before. Annually, the fire service across the country is becoming busier with new responsibilities being added almost daily. The only way we can be prepared to respond to these requests is to be appropriately trained.

We need to make training a daily responsibility. The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation Line-of-Duty- Death Summit Task Force has started an initiative to make every day a training day. Five simple tasks that can make all the difference.

Municipal officials, who are ultimately responsible for providing emergency services, must begin to step up to the plate and ensure that we can do our jobs safely and effectively. Better municipal funding will allow more time to be spent on training our firefighters for the tasks that they will be asked to do.

Turno: I started in the volunteer service and feel this is a great way to find out if this is the right career for you. It is also a service that many communities rely on and can give the volunteer that true feeling of service to man. The volunteer fire service can give individuals an opportunity to gain experience in management, leadership and confidence that they may not get anywhere else, except the military. The service is a great training ground for the future leaders of our communities and country.