02-14-1999, 02:18 AM #1Scott ClarkFirehouse.com Guest
Volunteer Firefighter - What really burns you?
For the past 10 plus years I have been researching what upsets volunteer firefighters and EMS providers to the point they resign from the service. What makes you angry? What do you think needs to be changed? If you have some thoughts I would like to hear them. Also please be respectful so we all my benefit from this information.
02-18-1999, 03:20 PM #2Scott ClarkFirehouse.com Guest
I'm suprised no one has any problems? This is interesting!
02-19-1999, 01:31 AM #3Jeff GilchristFirehouse.com Guest
One of the biggest reasons that I have seen people leave the volunteer fire service is the problems that some departments have in establishing leadership that is fair, responsive to the needs of the individual, and the "clique" mentality that comes in some
fire departments. Some departments have problems with a board, city council,or county supervisors that are not receptive to the needs of the department as a whole. This has a great impact on morale, especially if the leadership will not stand up for it's department and go along with the governing body so as not to lose their job. Hopefully this can help. I feel that I am blessed to be in a department that has great leadership and a receptive and helpful city government.
[This message has been edited by Jeff Gilchrist (edited 02-19-99).]
02-20-1999, 01:06 AM #4jdhafpdFirehouse.com Guest
I agree with the Leadership aspect. Many of the complaints I hear are relating to the inegrity, accoutability, and character of the the leadership of any organization. The leaders must not only talk the talk, but walk the walk. In other words, they must lead by example.
With a volunteer organization, this problem usually corrects itself. Once an Officer loses credility with the firefighter's, he's usually not around long. (we vote all officers into office on an annual basis)
Another thing that greatly effects our organizations is ATTITUDE. As leaders, we must build people up. We must develope the teamwork necessary to be an effective group, constantly providing an environment for personal growth, building of pride, and a hunger and opportunity to learn more.
We must include our members in problem solving and decision making. No one wants to continually be told what to do. I've found that when a problem exists, there's knowone better suited to resolve it than the firefighter's doing the job. I feel it's my job to provide problems, ideas, and supply reasonable resolutions. When our members are provided with these tools, I then take the role of supporting and implimenting their solutions. Has worked great for our District, it's good for our commuities, and we maintain a sense of pride and ownership in what we do.
02-20-1999, 01:41 AM #5Phil4601Firehouse.com Guest
Leadership in the volunteer fire service. Here is a subject that is close to my heart. My experience has to deal with small, one station rural volunteer companies. I agree that the acountability of some of the "Officers" has to come under close observation. Don't get me wrong. There are many fine, experienced and safe officers in the volunteer fire service in the region where I live.
The biggest problem is that many of these fine gentleman and ladies, by virtue of company by-laws end up serving very limited tenure as an officer. It never fails that when election time rolls around, the great popularity contest begins. This ends up having people with not the experience or training put into positions where their decisions could mean life or death for a citizen, or a fellow firefighter. Locally attempts to change some of these "rules" have fallen drastically short. This is a very sorry state for the small company. If you try to change the mind set, then you may become a badguy of the company, particullary with the "old guard" who will tell you that the company has been doing it this way since 1935. How do you try to explain that it may be time for a change? If anyone has any ideas please let me know. Thanks, Phil
02-20-1999, 12:22 PM #6TankerFirehouse.com Guest
I have been in firefighting for over twenty years in paid and volunteer depts.. Positive leadership keeps things on positive level in the whole department. When leadership has an open ming and allows the chain of command to work as it should, then everyone is happy. I found this not the case when I returned to my home town and the system had changed and the Chief was more of a dictator. He, as it is now, was voted in annualy, by his friends. The department had reduced in size to 14 active members, not good for two stations. He had control, no one could change anything untill he was voted out or he changed his attitude. Then one day he was ousted by the county government. Even I did not agree with big brother stepping in and doing this. Everyone of his friends quite except three of us. The taxpayers still needed us. We quickly re-orginized the department and ff's that had left do to his dictatorship, came back. We went from 14 members to 38. Most with no experience. We voted in officers, but knew we wanted others to have a say, NO dictator's. So with the two stations we have the Chief, two Asst.Chief's four Captains. An SOP that states that in voting, majority carries. The Chief still has power, not control. Everone is happy, we now have a very progressive training program.
02-23-1999, 04:11 AM #7IckymowFirehouse.com Guest
Politics is what I hate most about the fire service. The political arena should have no place in the fire house. In our department your knoledge and training have no bearing on weather you can get an officers position come election time. How ever if your in the right click or able to drink with the good ol boys your a shoe in. We have officers that do absolutly nothing but we can't get rid of them. If you say anything about them then you might as well resign your self to never being an officer. It's a shame the way we do things when it come to electing officers. We have people with 20 years of experiance and a great deal of training that would make good officers but they said the wrong thing to the wrong person and they don't stand a chance of ever being an officer now. Whats worse is trying to change the by-laws to made it so only people with training and experiance can get and hold officers jobs is next to impossible. The same ol boys who vote in the officers that hold us down keep the new by-laws from passing. How do you change it? Any ideas out there?
02-23-1999, 12:39 PM #8Scott ClarkFirehouse.com Guest
Your right about the politics, they have ruined everything. I always thought Cicero was beyond that stage. It just goes to show you learn someting new everyday. Let me leave you and everyone else with some further questions. Do you think that changing the volunteer system is beyond department by-laws? Do think it's time that (for example) County Law Makers or State Law Makers get involved and set some laws that govern how fire departments are run and getting the most qualified individuals elected to office? What type of impact do you think this would have on the fire service?
02-23-1999, 07:40 PM #9e33Firehouse.com Guest
4 words.....Old Dinosaurs Never Change.
.....And the people with progressive and foward thinking cant get anywhere if they meet resistance that the dinosaurs provide. "i've been doing this for 30 years, why do we have to change?"....sound familiar? It is slowly pushing me out the door of my firehouse. Also, failure of the members and managment to refine skills and desire new ones......and the fire house isnt a boys club anymore, go join one if you want to drink beer and hang out.
02-25-1999, 12:11 AM #10Phil4601Firehouse.com Guest
Scott, I'm not entirely sure that involving county or state government into the operations of the volunteer fire service is the right thing to do to help clean out the old stuff from the fire hall closets. Even though the volunteer fire hall can be quite a political arena in itself, involving elected officials who live miles away and know nothing of the area or it's people is not the answer. Here is a more tangable example for you. In the state where I live, a few years ago volunteer and paid EMS providers looked to the state to help set up guidelines to make sure that the people of the state were receiving proper EMS care. What came out of it was an EMS law that was so out of control that small EMS companies, both paid and volunteer were driven out of business. I could see the same thing happening to the volunteer fire service. Ask them to help set up some guidelines, and next thing you know no one in the entire state would be permitted to drive an Engine let alone be a line officer. In my opinion local, county and state government need to stay out of operating volunteer fire service. That's just my opinion, i could be wrong.
[This message has been edited by Phil4601 (edited February 25, 1999).]
02-25-1999, 12:41 AM #11pfdff13Firehouse.com Guest
As a person who has been on both sides of this fence (chief officer and firefighter), the biggest problems start at the top. by this I mean the City Council (as in our case) or county board or fire board etc. You have a board of individuals with absolutely no knowledge of the fire service putting a person into power because he is THIER popular choice. Once these individuals are in, they can run amok with no checks or balances. Another very good point that was brought up by one of the other respondants is the dinosaur issue. A major hurdle to overcome that runs many young members away is the oldtimers telling them that "It's worked this way for 20 yrs so why cant it still work now"
Older members for the most part arent interested in newer techniques and they dont want to hear any of the younger members thoughts. These are just a couple of issues I have personally seen and or dealt with in one way or another. The worst part about this problem is there are no simple fixes. The persons wanting to improve things can only beat their head against the wall for so long before they just give up.
02-25-1999, 04:03 AM #12Michael Johnston FFII EMTFirehouse.com Guest
I love being a firefighter and helping my community but I dislike the politics and fossilized attitudes.
However, the thing that angers me more than anything is the lack of respect for volunteers firefighters. (Example : why hasn't a certain die cast company (the one with the 3 in it's name) made ANY models of volunteer departments' equipment? Aren't there more volunteer firefighters than paid firefighters?) I don't mean to offend, demean or insult any paid firefighters, many have been very generous to our company. My anger is directed at a certain company's lack of recognition towards all volunteers.
We face the same risks as our paid brothers and sisters, I think we deserve the same recognition.
02-25-1999, 08:45 AM #13FSRIZZIOFirehouse.com Guest
Hang tough fellows, sooner or later you'll be the old timers, and you'll be running the place. In the mean time get some leadership training through the National Fire Academy...it's free, or at least real cheap. Try your State Academy. Bring some of this stuff back, maybe bring one of the "dinosaurs" with you, try not to leave him there, eventually your points will be heard. Always be safe, encourage everyone else to do the same.
Been there, Frank
02-25-1999, 11:00 AM #14TankerFirehouse.com Guest
I guess I need to change my name to Dinosaur?
Not all of us dinosaurs are the same. I do agree with you wether you call them dinosaurs or dictators. As I said earlier we did not like it when the county government(big brother) stepped in and ousted our Chief. But the three that stayed to re-orginize have a combined time in FF of over 65 years. Use dinosaurs as you saw saw the oppertunity to change the system by changing and adding to the chain of command and giving these officers votes so if the majority did not like an plan, whether it was a Chiefs or Asst Chief, or any other Officers plan, or what ever, then it did not pass. We also incourage all of our FF's to pass on any training issues, equipment requests, etc on to their Captains so it can be discussedand voted on. Everything is now running as it should, not one Dinosaur running things. I guess were not a normal group of dinosaurs. This one is still very much open minded and still learning. Thanks for letting this old (42) dinosaur voice my opinion.
02-25-1999, 02:57 PM #15Scott ClarkFirehouse.com Guest
Remember your only as old as you THINK you are! Stay young and opened minded.
02-26-1999, 12:44 PM #16FSRIZZIOFirehouse.com Guest
There is tremendous value in experience, weather it's from us "Dino's" or the nintendo generation. It was proven just yesterday when I got back into town and found my new guys at a simple grass fire that got out of hand. After I got them going in the right direction, things worked out O.K. I guess the important thing is to not take things for granted, always try to improve training (even for basic grass fires) and keep an open line of communication with as many people as you can.
Good Luck, Frank
02-27-1999, 11:06 AM #17Scott ClarkFirehouse.com Guest
Frank you are right and thank you for your reply's. I knew I would spark some debate on my question about should local, county and state government set laws and guidelines for fire departments on how they should elect officers? My email has been very busy since then. I'm glad you type those messages to me than on this forum. I think though you may need to think of this in another light. Your now John or Jane Q-public. Think about how your fire department is run and the individuals who have been elected to manage it? And you find yourself second quessing the way things are going and you wonder, am I really getting the best protection I can? How can I effect a change? And are the current officers set for life because they can hide behind the by-laws of your organization? These are just a few extra thoughts. I'm not trying to upset anyone, just bringing up some views from other firefighters and civilians who have raised these issues to me. Keep in mind I am well aware of the political arena's that take place.
If we stand united.... We will never fall.
03-02-1999, 05:59 PM #18GillFirehouse.com Guest
I have been a volunteer and paid fireman for about 5 years now. And I have to agree with what you all are saying. There are people at my volly station that have no business being leaders, but because they are good old boys, they are in positions, that could get people killed.
But one reason I see that nobody else mentioned is chief officers who want to do it all themselves. There are several members of my station, including myself who will no longer respond to emergency calls because our assistant chief is notorious for racing to the call to beat the first units there to cancell them, or to do the job himself.
Unfortunately, there is nothing we can do to vote him out, he was appointed by the chief, who is hired by the County Commission. It looks like we're stuck.
Stay safe brothers,
03-02-1999, 10:09 PM #19Scott ClarkFirehouse.com Guest
Gill, brighter days will be ahead! Remember there are power in numbers. Get those firefighters that are not responding all together and have a meeting with the chief. If that doesn't seem to work, go to the county commission and explain your problem if you have to. Also remember anyone can manage a fire department but there are only a few that can lead one! Good luck brother.
If we stand united.... We will never fall.
03-07-1999, 05:41 AM #20TankerFirehouse.com Guest
You can do something about it. If ou feel this strong about it, then act. As Scott said, you talk with the Chief about the problem, and tell him you are not the only one. Have others talk with him also. If he is a real Chief, and sees a problem he will handle it. If he does not, you and others can go talk to his boss, the County Commisioners. It works. It was a little different for us though. The Commisioners came in a terminated the Volunteer Chief, and his followers left. Keep the faith, brother FF in the Land of OZ. e mail me if you have questions.
03-09-1999, 01:21 PM #21HiTecVFDFirehouse.com Guest
What gets me:
It is the politics. People who want things done for their own personal agendas. I want us to have a better department, but no the one that is run by me, but by the members. I have been reprimanded for trying to make changes that were not being done by the people that said they would do them. Just because i am not an officer I am told to let them handle it. Just because someone is not an officer does not mean that they are unable to complete a task...
03-09-1999, 02:47 PM #22AffFirehouse.com Guest
I would definatly agree with the politics being a huge contributor to good people leaving. Our fairly large department -50+- vollies solved alot of this by hiring the longtime and very compitent Chief fulltime. This allowed for the elimination of officer voting popularity contests and the implementation of a testing proceedure. All canidates had to meet certian training and experiance requirements then pass an extensive written and oral testing program. This also allowed for a procedure to remove poor officers. Mutual aid departments are encouraged to send a line officer to the oral board to keep it fair. This eliminated the good old boys from dumping the Chief and allowed all with the requirements a fair chance at promotion.
03-10-1999, 07:56 AM #23ccc530Firehouse.com Guest
I agree, the politics make the job difficult. Especially in this day when it seems as though we have lost such interpersonal skills as communication and consideration. Listening skills are even more scarse. And pride has taken over most of us. We want it done OUR way. The FD simply reflects our country. It takes real "self government" (aka self-control) and humbleness to be able to look at the big picture and do things that will benefit others (or the community) above ourselves (used to be called "self-lessness"). However, don't despair. Those of us who understand what I have just said know what to do, and we can make a difference. We can take those primadonnas aside and quietly talk to them (sometimes they will listen when you talk to them one on one). We can work with others and encourage them to do the right thing. We don't have to "go along with the crowd. "If that doesn't work, we can do the best job that we can and wait for them to "shoot themselves in the foot". Eventually, you will be reckonized for having a "level head" and they will trust what you say. Sooner or later, you will reap what you sow! (And so will they).
03-10-1999, 08:34 AM #24ccc530Firehouse.com Guest
Hiring a chief. Has its' good points and its' bad points. True, you eliminate the popularity contest. True, you can hire someone who may actually know what he is doing. But don't think that you have ended the politics and "the good o' boys club". In fact he can become a dictator. You may end up "bowing to ceaser" every time you want to replace a piece of broken gear or try something new. The membership can loose control of the department very easily, if you do not make him/her accountable to the membership. This also applies to any appointed position. Accountability to the membership, not the city government, is crucial. Now, how do you apply that accountability. The framers of this country struggled with this question. Ultimatly, they realized that power is given by God, to the people, and the people are accountable to God. They built a system of checks and balances to prevent dictatorships and made the government accountable to the people. (Of course it's difficult to believe it today). O.K. you say, what has this got to do with the FD? Government is government. Even if you are only talking about a fire cheif. After you have the system in place, then you must select a candidate who has the charactor (yes, it does matter), the knowledge and the ability to build a coalition of support and respect among the membership. Pretty big task. Elected positions with term limits have the advantage of keeping things fairly fresh, if you can manage to find someone different to run. I admit, this can be difficult at times. But at least you can break up "the club" by electing someone who is not part of it. If you can't get enough members to support your candidate, you can work to bring in new members who will. To have good government, it takes work. YOU must get involved. Take "what really burns you" and turn it into positive action. This is a very good subject. I think I'll start a new thread!
03-11-1999, 12:31 PM #25WESTPLATTEFIREFirehouse.com Guest
We elect a chief annually. Must be a member one year. Same with assistants. No qualifications. Our paid ems sup. makes sure the canidates are not a threat to change her status. No IMS, no training program, few meetings, dwindling volunteers, increasing call volume, increasing tax support, ISO 8/9. and our board wonders what we can do to lower our ISO rating. I don't know anything, I'm just a paid ff running 500 calls per yr., Instructor I, paramedic, FF I & II, volunteer for 6 yrs., and I just submitted a 13pg. plan to the fire board and all ffs. Maybe the next election will bring change.
Be safe, have fun
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