And finally on funding for FD's: VFD's need to understand that when a fire company accepts fundraising dollars it is not much different than accepting tax dollars. So many fire companies worry that they will have to be very careful if they accept tax dollars. Well of course ya do! What were you doing with the FUNDRAISING dollars? If you collect taxes or raise funds for your fire company it is still a moral "contract" with the public that the money you take from them will be used to benefit the services you provide them. So don't be so afraid of tax dollars. It isn't any different than a fund drive except that there is more paperwork! Consider the time it takes your members to raise funds and work toward better utilizing their time.
APPLICABLE TRAINING STANDARDS and Accessible TRAINING.
There is no question that every person riding a fire engine needs basic training to properly and professionally do their job. No one should be functioning without NFPA level firefighter training. No officer should be leading without officer training school and no incident commander should be incident commanding without INCIDENT Command Training. But how far does the training need to go?
There is no simple response. It depends on the level of service that is required to protect the community while protecting firefighters from getting ourselves hurt or worse. Some communities protect a rural area, so rural training is required. Some communities protect high rise building, so high rise training is required and some communities protect factories, so industrial and large area structural firefighting is required. The training should match the risks that we have to protect. Once the risks are determined, the training needs to be accessible and to the point. No, the training shouldn't be "skimped" on but should keep in mind that volunteers will commit time as long as it is not wasted. Make sure fire training includes MODERN AV equipment, well written books that address issues at all levels and Internet access so your firefighters can study without hassles and most critically, make sure the INSTRUCTOR is an EXPERT on the subject. In other words, the training of volunteer firefighters has to be no cost, applicable and hassle-free. Otherwise you can do or build whatever you want, they will not come.
INTERNAL FIREHOUSE B.S.
For sure, many of the above issues as well as many national influences create challenges for the volunteer fire service, but one of the biggest killers of volunteer fire companies is the internal "BS" issues we have within fire companies. Simply put, if a member doesn't feel welcome and enjoy being in your fire company, they will stop coming down. Sometimes it's just that simple. Take a real close look and ask the questions. Quite often members just decide "it isn't worth it" due to officers that don't know how to treat their members, or fire company rules so antiquated that Ben Franklin wouldn't like them. To truly make members feel welcomed and valued, the leadership must remember that the members are their "customers" who must be taken care of. Now, I am NOT saying fire companies shouldn't have applicable discipline, rules, regulations and fair enforcement. Not at all. In some cases that is exactly what IS needed to make a FUNCTIONAL fire company out of a dysfunctional fire company! On the other hand, a few psychos on a power trip running a VFD will drive members out, quickly.
What is being done for all the members of your fire company? What incentive do they have to be there? In some towns the incentive is to work in a well-respected fire company that is well-led and well-trained. In some towns it's that plus a cool new jacket each year. In others, it's a retirement program or a great insurance plan. And in one fire company I know of, along with all that, the soda and snack machines are free. Sound like a big deal? Sometimes it's the little stuff that matters.
Simply put, if "it sucks to go down to the firehouse" it's time to find out why. Keep in mind that volunteer fire companies ONLY WORK if members WANT to come down to the firehouse! This is simple stuff.
It's also not all about the leadership and officers. Firefighters, you joined to serve, so don't try to totally "customize" your fire company to meet YOUR personal needs. Respond quickly and safely every time the tones go off and participate in training regularly, and remember "Ask NOT what your fire company can do for you... ask what YOU can do for your fire company"...(with apologies to JFK!)