1. #1
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    Default Is it Ethical to Mandate Volunteerism?

    I've been thinking about this for awhile. I LOVE the volunteer service, as I love serving my community and helping people in need.

    My department is a combination department in a couple of different ways. We have EMS integrated into our department (EMS calls are about 90% of our calls epr year), and we have paid EMS First Responders, however all of the firefighters are volunteer.

    At night there is obviously a hinderance of turn-out (this mostly pertains to EMS calls), so my department has mandated that certain members MUST respond overnight from 2200-0500 for any EMS call that comes out. We call these "Squad Nights". Please accept my apology if this is common knowledge already.

    Generally a person assigned to these nights have been in the department under 5 years. There are three slots per night, every night, and they are all filled (Driver, EMT, Aids Person).

    I can understand mandating a certain amount of calls per year, and a certain amount of trainings, but mandating a certain time-frame in which certain members MUST respond?

    Take into account a lot of people work the normal hours of about 9am-5pm, so it's understandable as to why people don't respond. And don't get me wrong, I've done a lot for overnights. When I wasn't working full-time and worked part-time at night I would do many, many overnight calls.

    There's an obvious hierarchy of responsiblities:
    1.) Family and Friends
    2.) Work
    3.) Volunteering

    My question to you, the Firehouse community, is: Do you believe it's ethical to mandate VOLUNTEER work?

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    In my old department, we had the same thing you call Squad Nights (except we called them EMS Duty Nights). However, we didn't tell people you have to go on X night and you go on Y night. We let people pick their night at the begining of each year. So Bob signs up for Monday nights, Joe signs up for Tuesday nights, etc. We never had to forcefully assign it to people, they volunteered. We strongly encouraged and sometimes slightly guilted people into doing it that were being lazy.

    Ironically, the problem was often too many people going to the call.
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    This question practically answers itself.

    If one is being mandated, they aren't volunteering.
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    It's a moot question.

    If it's mandated, it isn't "volunteerism."
    "Nemo Plus Voluptatis Quam Nos Habant"

    The Code is more what you'd call "guidelines" than actual rules.

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    Scfire, interesting response..

    Volunteerism means different things in different places. To some mindsets, you volunteer your service to an organization but are inheirently subject to the rules of that organization.

    In a broad sense, the entire Volunteer Fire Service is that way in most states. You volunteer to a department but you are required by state law to be trained to a certain level of competency (Usually FF I or above).

    Gone are the days of pick and choose training. Farmer Bob must meet certain standards or he will not stay in the fire service.

    It comes down to the ever increasing level of service we provide. To reach that level, some organizations have to require or mandate participation. Other departments have to reign in the dogs and limit participation.

    If you knew this was part of the agreement to be a part of this organization, then give it your all and go on.

    If you do not agree with the policy then as my Dad once said to me," If you don't like what's cookin', go eat somewhere else 'cause the menu is not changin'."

    The real question for your organization is can the level of service be maintained without mandated participation?
    A coward stands by and watches wrongs committed without saying a word...Any opinions expressed are purely my own and not necessarily reflective of the views of my former departments

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    Quote Originally Posted by DeputyMarshal View Post
    It's a moot question.

    If it's mandated, it isn't "volunteerism."
    I don't know if I agree... at least with the blanket statement. Just because its volunteer-based does not mean the organization cannot make mandates on its members. Just because they're volunteer the organization cannot mandate training? Enforcement of SOG's? Duty Crew participation?

    Now, in this specific case I think it may be a poorly implemented system to assign an individual to a certain shift (what he called Squad Nights) with no input or flexibility from the member. That just seems like a drive people away.. at the same time I have no problem with an organization that had a requirement for a certain number of duty/squad hours per week. Maybe that's just because that's how my organization works.

    When we join we are assigned to a duty crew night (based on need, and individual availability). Once that assignment is made we are responsible for making sure there is coverage. If I have to call out it is my responsibility to make sure there that enough of the other guys will be there, or find someone from another night to swap with.

    We used to also weekend duty crews where people could sign up for shifts and any vacancies were randomly assigned from the other members (possibly without buy in). This was done enough ahead of time that if there was a conflict a member could find someone to swap shifts with.
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    Quote Originally Posted by voyager9 View Post
    I don't know if I agree... at least with the blanket statement. Just because its volunteer-based does not mean the organization cannot make mandates on its members.
    I think the nature of the general heading bothered me more than the particulars. What bothers me about them is the insinuation that only the n00bs are stuck with "mandatory" shift coverage. It seems to me that, if there are hours that need to be staffed, they should be shared by all -- not just the "new guys."
    "Nemo Plus Voluptatis Quam Nos Habant"

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    Seems like a practical way to ensure minimum staffing in departments where you can't count on general call-outs getting enough people to the scene. It is also reasonable to expect those who have volunteered to join the department to put in a minimum level of service and there are endless ways that this has been done.

    I would hope that they are flexible about shift assignments though.

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    Both departments that I have been on have duty crew requirements. My first department assigned everyone to a crew and the 11 hour overnight duty for that crew rotated days. People who work nights were allowed to do their duty on Saturdays, and other special arrangements could be made to accommodate schedules. My current department expects everyone to do an evening or day duty once a week, but the specific day is left up to the person and can vary from week to week.

    I don't see a problem with this arrangement, you know when you volunteer that this is part of the deal. As someone mentioned, no different than training requirements, or fund raising requirements.

    I agree with Deputy though, I might have a problem if only the new guys were expected to stand duties.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Eng34FF View Post
    I agree with Deputy though, I might have a problem if only the new guys were expected to stand duties.
    Agreed, assignments should be spread across the entire membership.. at a minimum it allows the new guys to get to know, and learn from, some of the old goats.

    One of the advantages of duty crews (specifically in house crews) is that it spreads the load across all members. Instead of having the 4-closest members running 90% of the calls until they burn out.. then the next 4, then next 4..etc.
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    Although I believe that trainings and a certain amount of calls per year are mandated - I find that sufficient since trainings are a liability - personnel must be sufficiently trained to do their job safely and correctly. As for points - you should have to do a certain amount of calls to show that you're indefinitely active. My department mandated that members answer at LEAST 152 calls per year. This number actually isn't too bad, as we get any points for overlapping calls, and points for calls we miss during active trainings.

    However, I don't like the idea of mandating overnight responses. Any time that your're forced to respond during your personal time is unethical. We're volunteering our SPARE time as it is. I believe that these squad nights do push new recruits away, and have even made probationary members quit as they have our department's probationary training twice a week, plus their mandated points, PLUS mandated additional trainings, and then squad nights all on top of that. For doing a free service, that's a lot of time to throw in, especially when they may be working a full-time job and/or going to school simulateneously.

    As I stated before, we also have PAID personnel on-site 24/7. I don't see the need to make volunteers go out overnight for a call if two of them can immediately take the ambulance, and have police help as well (they respond to all of our calls as well). If additional manpower is needed or a second alarm comes in, then by all means page it out and see if any VOLUNTEER members VOLUNTARILY respond.

    This is just my take on it. I find it competely unethical. I am all for helping my community. But when it hinders my personal life (people need sleep for work the next day, seeing family, ect.) I find it simply unethical.

    And the worst part of these squad nights is that it's all of the newer people doing it. The more seasoned members aren't required to do these overnight calls, so the burden has immediately piled up onto the newer guys. It SHOULD be blanketed among all of the members. Yes, there are more seasoned members in the department that do volunteer to do run calls overnight when they're not mandated to, and I am thankful for these members. But simply putting such a burden on newcomers potentially pushes people looking to join away.

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    You volunteered to join. In doing so, you agreed to follow the rules of the department. Ya, its that simple.

    Oh, you can also volunteer to quit.
    "This thread is being closed as it is off-topic and not related to the fire industry." - Isn't that what the Off Duty forum was for?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bones42 View Post
    You volunteered to join. In doing so, you agreed to follow the rules of the department. Ya, its that simple.

    Oh, you can also volunteer to quit.
    Yep, that is always an easy answer. You don't like it quit. What about departments that don't have waiting lists of new people to fill those slots of people that quit? Or those struggling to maintain an adequate roster at all?

    I do agree that if you join you agree to follow the rules. But it is a volunteer fire department and rigidly setting schedules and expecting people to always be there for their Tuesday night is ludicrous. The EMS service that covers our area is a POC service, they post the schedule online and members sign up to fill the slots. The minimum number of hours a month you have to cover is 24, but you can sign up for as many hours as you wish to finish filling out the schedule. I believe you would have some people working far more than their minimum under this system and some barely making their minimum. But at least it allows some choice of when you would cover, assuming you got to the schedule early enough.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bones42 View Post
    You volunteered to join. In doing so, you agreed to follow the rules of the department. Ya, its that simple.

    Oh, you can also volunteer to quit.

    Yes, I VOLUNTEERED to join to help my community. I VOLUNTEERED my time, and committed to getting through the Fire Academy, running over the minimum calls, making my trainings, and having time to socialize with my fellows brothers (and sisters).

    However, one thing I didn't know when joining was that there was mandatory overnight squad nights. I gave up a lot for the department as it is. I've given in a lot of my time towards the department. Towards the beginning of me joining I was working a job, was going to school full-time, and was expecting to have a daughter. But rather than not joining, I still went through with it, got through my department's initial probationary training, went through Fire Fighter I classes and hands-on, and made (and make) adequate points. I even ran an array of Alpha priority calls (meaning no lights or sirens - essentially just a transport), which was at least an hour or more on average. I did overnight calls when I had time and worked part-time at night.

    I do a lot for my department. I've helped with a large amount of fundraisers, helped MPOs check over and wash their rigs, helped transport member's family members (we didn't get a point for this), helped clear the older member's driveways in the winter, and so on.

    As long as I am still capable of doing such duties, I am not ready to "quit" from my fire department, despite a lot of political turmoil and unethical practices (well, unethical in my mind). I've retained priceless information and training from the fire department, but I still believe that these "squad nights" shouldn't be mandated - especially since a majority of the calls we get are simple Alpha or low-level priority calls that the paid personnel can handle themselves.

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    Quote Originally Posted by chem1cal View Post
    Yes, I VOLUNTEERED to join to help my community. I VOLUNTEERED my time, and committed to getting through the Fire Academy, running over the minimum calls, making my trainings, and having time to socialize with my fellows brothers (and sisters).

    However, one thing I didn't know when joining was that there was mandatory overnight squad nights. I gave up a lot for the department as it is. I've given in a lot of my time towards the department. Towards the beginning of me joining I was working a job, was going to school full-time, and was expecting to have a daughter. But rather than not joining, I still went through with it, got through my department's initial probationary training, went through Fire Fighter I classes and hands-on, and made (and make) adequate points. I even ran an array of Alpha priority calls (meaning no lights or sirens - essentially just a transport), which was at least an hour or more on average. I did overnight calls when I had time and worked part-time at night.

    I do a lot for my department. I've helped with a large amount of fundraisers, helped MPOs check over and wash their rigs, helped transport member's family members (we didn't get a point for this), helped clear the older member's driveways in the winter, and so on.

    As long as I am still capable of doing such duties, I am not ready to "quit" from my fire department, despite a lot of political turmoil and unethical practices (well, unethical in my mind). I've retained priceless information and training from the fire department, but I still believe that these "squad nights" shouldn't be mandated - especially since a majority of the calls we get are simple Alpha or low-level priority calls that the paid personnel can handle themselves.

    Well, it looks like you have 2 choices. The first as mentioned earlier is to "volunteer" to quit. The second is to stick it out, put in your time, and gain the experience/training necessary to become an officer or other leader in the department.

    Your question was whether it was "ethical" to require squad nights. The answer you have generally seen is that yes it is ethical. The other part is if it is the wise way to do business. As mentioned, there are probably better ways of ensuring coverage without being so rigid.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Eng34FF View Post
    Well, it looks like you have 2 choices. The first as mentioned earlier is to "volunteer" to quit. The second is to stick it out, put in your time, and gain the experience/training necessary to become an officer or other leader in the department.

    Your question was whether it was "ethical" to require squad nights. The answer you have generally seen is that yes it is ethical. The other part is if it is the wise way to do business. As mentioned, there are probably better ways of ensuring coverage without being so rigid.

    Trust me, I know it's necessary to ensure that our area is covered. I'm not quitting, and I have been sticking it out as much as I can. I work a full-time job, and I need all the sleep that I can get when I have work the next day. I don't want to be at work and be groggy because we got a call for a drunk at 3AM.

    Personally, I think volunteering should be when you, the volunteer, have time to do so. I, personally, find it unethical that anyone volunteering should be mandated to cover a certain timeframe without a say in it.

    I believe that the people that should be sent on these late night EMS calls should be the people lacking in points, not the people with less than 5 years under their belt. It is a serious deterrent to people looking to join. Especially in today's day in age where times are rough, people need to work, and you're willing to risk it to go out at 2200-0500 for a miniscule reason? I know there are real emergencys, and I am willing to go out for that. But 9/10 times it's for a reason that could have been handled by the paid personnel, or even a private ambulance service. I'm not "hiding" behind the volunteer status, I am expressing my personal opinion on the matter. Volunteering should be at the volunteer's discretion.

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    Default This Is Not the Boy Scouts!!!

    The volunteer Fire Service is a different breed. Like Bones42 said, "You volunteered to join. In doing so, you agreed to follow the rules of the department. Ya, its that simple. Oh, you can also volunteer to quit."

    I always talk at our volunteer orientation nights. You volunteer twice: Once when you join, and then again when you leave. In between, you have responsibilities, such as gaining and maintaining certs, making field days, and yes, God Forbid, stand duty.

    That being said, your agency should have a scheduling officer, and you provide a set number of days or nights you are available. A schedule is made up, and then you know when you are "mandated" to be in the house.

    The public demands no less.....

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    Quote Originally Posted by chem1cal View Post
    Trust me, I know it's necessary to ensure that our area is covered. I'm not quitting, and I have been sticking it out as much as I can. I work a full-time job, and I need all the sleep that I can get when I have work the next day. I don't want to be at work and be groggy because we got a call for a drunk at 3AM.

    Personally, I think volunteering should be when you, the volunteer, have time to do so. I, personally, find it unethical that anyone volunteering should be mandated to cover a certain timeframe without a say in it.

    I believe that the people that should be sent on these late night EMS calls should be the people lacking in points, not the people with less than 5 years under their belt. It is a serious deterrent to people looking to join. Especially in today's day in age where times are rough, people need to work, and you're willing to risk it to go out at 2200-0500 for a miniscule reason? I know there are real emergencys, and I am willing to go out for that. But 9/10 times it's for a reason that could have been handled by the paid personnel, or even a private ambulance service. I'm not "hiding" behind the volunteer status, I am expressing my personal opinion on the matter. Volunteering should be at the volunteer's discretion.

    OK, so you don't want to quit, and you think that the squad nights are unfair. The remaining option is to get the policy changed. You can discuss it with current leadership and make a case to change the policy or you can gain the training and experience to get into a leadership position where you can change the policy.

    Personally as an officer, I would listen as long as it come across as for the betterment of the department and not whining about having to run night duty.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Eng34FF View Post
    OK, so you don't want to quit, and you think that the squad nights are unfair. The remaining option is to get the policy changed. You can discuss it with current leadership and make a case to change the policy or you can gain the training and experience to get into a leadership position where you can change the policy.

    Personally as an officer, I would listen as long as it come across as for the betterment of the department and not whining about having to run night duty.
    Good advice right there.
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    There is a big difference between a policy being "wise" and one that is "unethical". This policy has nothing to do with ethics. Your department could also mandate that everyone do 100 pushups at the beginning of each training night. Forcing "volunteers" to do this would probably result in a massive wave of resignations, so it wouldn't be a "wise" idea, but it doesn't violate any sense of ethics that I'm familiar with.

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    Since I've been doing this, I've been on three volunteer departments. Two of them had duty nights (6pm-6am, weekend duty would vary), and you knew this when you joined those departments. For those members who had jobs or other legitimate responsibilities that would not let them run a regular duty night, they either pulled daytime hours, or would schedule to pull 4-hour duty shifts when they had a chance to.

    There is nothing unethical about being required to pull a duty crew. The rules should be applied equally to all members, or should have a graduated application dependent on years of service. No one WANTS to go to work tired the next day after toting a drunk at 3AM, but unfortunately, sometimes sleep is one of the sacrifices we make as volunteer members.

    I have to agree with Eng34FF, propose a change to the policy if you feel that it will benefit the entire department.
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    My department doesn't have the call volume to necessitate duty crews so please correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the point of a duty crew so that the same people aren't having to sacrifice sleep every night for boo boo and band aid calls?

    So you're tired one day a week at work. Man up! With a paged from home response you might get to sleep every night, or you might get called out every night... or 3 times every night. And we do notice who is conspicuously absent at those 3am calls!

    *cranky from being at work after being out on a call all night*

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    Quote Originally Posted by chem1cal View Post
    Personally, I think volunteering should be when you, the volunteer, have time to do so. I, personally, find it unethical that anyone volunteering should be mandated to cover a certain timeframe without a say in it.

    I believe that the people that should be sent on these late night EMS calls should be the people lacking in points, not the people with less than 5 years under their belt. It is a serious deterrent to people looking to join.
    So your problem is not with the idea of your Squad Nights, but in how those nights are currently implemented. From what you've said I would tend to agree. As I implied in my postings above, I have no problem with requiring duty nights but the way yours are currently implemented seem overly rigid and arbitrary and some aspects of them may be unnecessary.

    I would bring your concerns up with your leadership. You may be able to bring about some changes if you're able to express your concerns intelligently and provide alternatives. If you can come across as "I'll do whatever needs to be done, but wouldn't it be smarter if...." rather than "I don't want to ride the Whambolance at 3am!" might make things better for everyone.
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    I'll echo what BoxAlarm said.
    Came from a department with similar setup.
    Combination: Paid M-F 0600-1900
    Volunteer: Any other time

    The community had exhausted the available resources of volunteers and expanded a program for people outside of the district to apply and respond. This led to a 5 section rotation (duty every 5th night) where we would be required to stay overnight at the station. The whole month and months to come were laid out for you and there was no doubt when you were expected to be there. If you needed a particular night off, you had to go thru the proper channels which usually wasn't a problem.

    Over time, there were members who couldn't make the traditional night requirements and rode with the day crews or floated their night tours.

    These are issues you need to bring up via your chain of command. I don't think any of us are seeing it as "unethical".

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    We have a squad schedule as well, but it is more fair. The entire department is divided into three squads, each with its own officer. Our department does have a paid staffed ambulance 24/7, so the volunteers are only needed if there is a second medical call, or assistance is needed with the ambulance. The intent is so the same guys are not stuck showing up night after night for medical and auto alarm calls. The entire department is expected to respond for other calls at night.

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