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  1. #1
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    Lightbulb Vol. Fire Service - Are WE our own worst enemy?

    I have personnally been involved in the volunteer fire service for over 17 years. I am also a paid Firefighter/EMT for the past 4 years. I am from PA and have also lived in PA, MD, and NJ over my lifetime so far. I have belonged to several organizations from small town fire companies all the way up to and including PGFD (as it was called back then). I was also in military and attended the US Air Force/DOD Fire Academy. In all my years of fire service I have actively been part of fully paid, combination, and all volunteer departments. What I have come to realize in the past 5 years is that so many of the volunteer departments who are now struggling to have or keep active memebers may have created their own fate in the past. I don't want anyone to take this wrong because i take much pride in the organizations I am part of and I come from a family of dedicated volunteer fire fighters. I also know what I have seen or expereinced for my own eyes. So many times I have seen things happen in the volunteer fire service that just don't make any sence. I am curious to see how many others can say they have also seen these things and agree. Ask yourself these questions about your volunteer organization and see if they apply?<br />1. Does your department base all it's decisions on what is best for the community/people you serve and to provide the best service you can?<br />2. Does your department treat all your members with equal reguard? (Meaning-The same standards apply to everyone). <br />3. Does your organization have minimal standards for all positions from Junior member to Fire Chief. If yes, who sets these standards and who governs everyone who apply to them?<br />4. Does your department have requirements for a member to maintain an active status?<br />5. Does your department have for different requirements for anyone seaking active membership?<br />Experienced verses unexperienced.<br />6. Does your department provide your members will all the needed safety, personnal protective, and other equipment required to do the job of the position they hold?<br />7. Does your department allow your personnel to attend training above the basic levels and cover all expenses involved?<br />8. Does your department give all your active members give a chance for advancement within your department or organization?<br />9. Does your department allow all of your active personel (who meet the training requirements) drive the apparatus?<br />10. Does your department have a written disciplinary procedure to follow and are all members aware of it and how it works?<br />11. Does your department consider changes when they are brought up to them?<br />If you answered yes to all of these questions my next question to you is this:<br />12. If you gave these questions to all of your active members in the form of an anomous survey, would each of them also answer yes to all of these questions?

    I would like to hear imput from anyone who wishes to reply. I could fill 15 of these pages with stories about some of the **** I have seen. I didn't write this to tell stories. I wrote this to make you look long and hard at your organizations and to push for changes. We need to make changes if we still want to be around in another 50 years. I hope that this has inspired some of you to do the right things and better your organizations. Push for changes where they need to be made. If that doesn't work then demand them. The future of the volunteer fire service will only be what we make it.

    I hope that in 50 years my grandchildren will be part of something that has been such a big part of mine. Pride/Tradition/Dedication<br /> <img src="wink.gif" border="0">


  2. #2
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    Post

    YOU SAID IT, I'M IN (PGFD) OVER 15YR <br /> I BEEN OUT FOR LAST FIVE, RETRUN THIS YR<br />ITS LOOKING BAD. I HOPE TO HELP TO <br />CHANGE THING FOR THE BETTER,, BUT ONLY TIME <br />WILL TELL.<br /> STAY SAFE

  3. #3
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    I have been with my department for around 7 months, and I agree with what you say, but things are changing for the better. Just taking ideas that I have and throwing them around the station is a good thing. Our biggest problem is the budget is way to small, and the needs to big. I know that sounds like everyone else so I am working on some things to make my dept more efficient with what it has. For years they ran a tanker out as the first truck out of the station. That has been changed as of the 28th of Dec. Like you I could go on, but one person with and Idea who can make people listen will make that difference. You can teach old dogs new tricks, but also can learn from them. Fill free to e-mail me cookred03@netzero.net
    Stay Safe/Stay Low Go 8 Car Go

  4. #4
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    I'm new to my department. I've only been a member for a few months. I'm not quite sure what you're talking about, but ot tell you the truth I am a bit unnerved. I really love being a firefigher, and I spend every free moment I have thinking abou it. I would really like if you would further explain what you say is the problem so that I can get an idea of what is going on. Thanks.

  5. #5
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    I am a Lt. in a small vol. fd in a small rual town but I am also a paid guy somewhere very far away. Our vol fd only supplements the paid depts which our town contacts with so I'm not taking food out of anyones mouth. Anyway, we recently had a revamping of our dept. There was a lot of back stabbing and some really good people left or were dissmissed(you can't fire a vol).

    When the dept started reorginizing the newly formed town appointed it's vice mayor to be the fire commish. The only problem with this is that his wife wants to be a firefighter, which is fine, but she is not certified. Because her husband is the commish, the chief lets her do WHAT EVER SHE WANTS. This means riding on the engine, brush or attach truck and opperating as a firefighter. Besides being rediculous it is dangerous.

    Now let me give you a little more history on the chief. He has never had a certified firefighter class ever. He is just the one who has been around the longest. He has no clue on fighting fire at all but pretends, he does some very dangerous things durring training(if he had any training he would know better) and he promotes not based on knowlage, testing or experince but by who does the most for him. Example: our captain was promoted to his position fom firefighter because he fixed a toilet at the chiefs house and had some T-shirts made up with the new dept logo on them(this logo was his own and was not voted on by the members and because he bought the first round of them this is now what we wear) not because he actually knows hat he is doing. Yes he did go to fire school but has never done anything with it. He cannot run a call or even give a size-up because he freezes. The only good thing is he is starting to realize this so he doesn't come on calls or he lets 2 of the Lt's handle it because the other Lt was promoted in the same fashion the capt was and is clueless. <br />Now the chief wants absolute power, so when some one stands up to him because the chief is wrong, that person gets the boot. This is how some of our best firefighters, drivers and Lt's are gone. The only reason I got promoted and am still around is because they need at least 2 Lt's that know what they are doing. The chief is now letting uncertified people ride as firefighters. I have been repremanded 3 times for refusing to let them ride on the tuck with me.

    Ok, buget time. We never had a real buget until the town was formed. All our supplys we got from the county who we had a contract with to provide our services with. Because we now have money the chief feels the need to spend it, quickly. We need a new brush truck and have already ordered it. Our engine works fine but the chief thinks we need another one...don't ask. We need to build a station which is comming along slowly, but he is still spending money like it's water. He ordered $2000 of office supplys for the FD(the chief also runs his own buisness, I doubt all those supplys went to the FD) we could have use that money for some new wildland gear, air chisel or other important things. By the way , we never spent $2k on office supplys before.

    Any way, this is how things go in our FD. I am currently in touch with the state on training standards about the non-certified thing so wish me luck! Just think, you thought your dept was bad!!!!!!!!
    If your going to cry about doing the job you signed up for do us all a favor and quit, there are plenty of dedicated people standing in line for the best job in the world.

    Firefighter/Paramedic

  6. #6
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    THANK <br />I DON'T FEEL THAT BAD MY COUNTY, VOL & PAID<br /> CRYING ABOUT EACH OTHER.<br /> FM61 CHECK WITH NFPA ON CERTIFIED, I NOT FOR <br />SURE THAT THERE IS A MIM. TO ALL FF. GOOD LUCK.<br /> T/C S/S DENNIS

  7. #7
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    I got 6 "yes", 3 "no", and 2 "no, but we're improving notably".

    Regardless, we the volunteers are clearly our own worst enemies. Always have been.

  8. #8
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    Arrow

    A very progressive and very skilled Chief that I worked for on a paid-on-call department hit the nail on the head square-he always said a good department won't be taken down from the outside, but from the inside by its very own members. That could mean any number of things: the ever present officer/chief position popularity contest; the guy that's everybodies buddy, but hasn't "worked" a call since he came on; the dinosaurs, that no matter how much it's needed or required, won't change to save their lives, or worse yet, other members; the guy that joined becuase he looks good in a uniform, and spends all his time at the bar bragging about the calls other members worked; and finally the guy that's been on since Moby Dick was a minnow and is just sucking the relief association for every last nickle (oh, and they always seem to have the wife that thinks she is the chief). Thats all I could think of quick, but in a volunteer situation, none are easy to deal with. The Chief needs to be in a position to make the tough decisions and not get voted out, members and officers MUST met minimum accepted standards for training, attendance and performance, and the rank and file need to pressure the management to make this all a policy to be veiwed by all. Then the tough one, a member needs to be able to be fired. I can understand the concerns of a Chief to ensure the town or city is covered, but it needs to be done by reliable, trained firefighters. Many communitees a able to do this with a very capable, well trained, and equiped personnel. Some can't....It all starts from with-in. Just a few thoughs, Mark
    My posts reflect my views and opinions, not the organization I work for or my IAFF local. Some of which they may not agree. I.A.C.O.J. member
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    Elevator Rescue Information

  9. #9
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    Cool

    Thanks for all the great replies. I will be posting more information on the current situation as is comes out. Thanks Neil. <img src="cool.gif" border="0">

  10. #10
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    Cool

    I take nothing but pride in my volunteer fire company. I live in Rockland County, the first county North of NYC on the west bank of the hudson river, in which there are 26 active fire departments. I hail from the infamous department 6, Hillcrest, the best. We've won the awards for "Most Training" about 15 years in a row now, get the finest apparatus and equipment on the trucks, everyone gets gear (probies just get the used stuff, after probie you get new PBI). Money for us, sadly enough not for all companies, is not much of an issue. We donate equipment, gear, and all sorts of things to our neighboring, less fortunate departments, because we realize how hard they have it ($7000 budget / year for them to outfit their guys and buy new equipment for their trucks as opposed to our $250,000). But its not all about the money either. Our group is tight, we're ALWAYS hanging out at the firehouse, all get together at least 10 times a month as a department (not counting meetings) and just love spending time with eachother (for the most part). We're like a big family, and I know all fire departments are, but I feel that ours is special. Not to mention the fact that we've almost started to have to turn people AWAY from joining (not permenantly, but we have 14 probies... 1 year probation period) while other depts have none. We have to litereally tell them to come back in a few months b/c as much as we like that a lot of people are joining, its hard to train that many new people WELL at one time.

    Pretty much what I'm trying to say is that not ALL volunteer departments are "tearing themselves apart". You just have to find the right balance. <img src="smile.gif" border="0">
    9.11.01

    In Memory of Greg Sikorsky
    We Miss You
    FDNY - Squad 41
    Hillcrest FD Volunteer - Dept 6

    The Spirit Lives On

  11. #11
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    Cool

    In reply to Hillcrests comments I have a few questions I would like answered. If I moved to your town tomorrow and applied to join your department what would the process be? Keep in mind that I am around during the daytime on my days off. My training level is as follows. Fire Fighter 2, Fire Officer 2, Instructor 3, Fire Inspector 2, Apparatus Operator Pumper & Aerial, Rescue Tech., Hazmat Tech. & EMT. I was also wondering about your department turning away new recruits. I don't know of any volunteer department anywhere who can afford to turn any new people away. Sounds like your budget/money situation is taken care of. What is your normal responce from your station? What is your call volume? Where does your department train? Do you have living quarters/bunk room or does everyone respond from home? Do you have a web site? I applaud your department for your dedication and pride in your organization. I applaud you training and efforts to better your department. I encourage you to welcome all new members and offer them guidance. Volunteer recruitment and retention should be a top priority in all organizations. Take care and be safe. FGN <img src="cool.gif" border="0">

  12. #12
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    FireGuyNeil,

    Hillcrest379 is, ummm, a newbie in our dept, so I'll take this one. Just to clarify straight away, we've never actually turned anyone away, nor will we ever. We've accepted over 80 members in the last 10 years. Many are still active members (3 are line officers), and of course some have left for varying reasons(mostly school, the military or starting a career). Hillcrest379's comment [quote] we've almost started to have to turn people AWAY <hr></blockquote> may be taken out of context. The fact is that we currently have 15 probationary members that all joined within 8 months.

    Incidentally, several members of our dept are charter members of our county's Retention and Recruitment Committee (yes, the words are correct like that, you've gotta keep the ones you have before you can hope to get new ones) most notably our county's director of emergency services, who is an ex-chief of our dept. As well we just lowered our minimum age from 18 to 16 in June.

    <br />(CONTINUED--->)

  13. #13
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    (CONTINUATION)

    As far as the rest of your questions, here's the deal:<br />1. To join, you'd submit an application, read at first meeting, voted at next meeting, investigation between (including NYS mandatory arson check) and physical. Probation is 1 year, 25% min response fires, 25% of all other activities. 5 classes required within that year and in-house dept probie training.<br />2. Response, you mean average manpower or apparatus? We have 3 stations, average 25-50 members per call (depends on type, of course, typical vollie)<br />3. 775 calls last year.<br />4. We train at county training center, at our stations and within our area.<br />5. Everyone responds from home. No living quarters (although some members seem to think the firehouse is a second home...LOL)<br />6. Our website is <a href="http://www.hillcrestfd.org" target="_blank">www.hillcrestf d.org</a>

    Thanks for the compliments, we do take alot of pride in our dept. Sometimes too much, like probies bragging in these forums <img src="wink.gif" border="0">

    Take care, <br />Chris

  14. #14
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    cookred03<br />Please look at the items that the original post listed. Only two of these items required any quantity of money. Almost every volunteer fire company cries that they don't have enough money. Why is that do you think?

    Maybe, just maybe, volunteers frequently don't act like the "un-paid professionals" that they are so fond of stating. If volunteers were so professional, why is it that this post even exists. If volunteers were so professional all of the items that were listed on the original post would not be an issue.

    How much money does it take to write up, implement and enforce Rules and Regulations? The cost of the paper? Are you telling me that your department can't afford that?

    How much money does it take to conduct pre-incident surveys and place them in the front of every fire apparatus that you have? The cost of paper and a couple of three ring binders?

    Now if you told me that there was a premium on the time spent by your members to do all that is required, then I might agree with you, but frequently the issues that the original poster brought out don't cost that much, if at all. They take time and frequently will be met with resistance by those members that are there for all the wrong reasons. The difference is are you and the leaders of your fire organization willing to have the intestinal fortitude to do what is right and not what is easy or popular.

    That doesn't take money and when you begin to do these things then maybe you'll begin to be a professional. And maybe, just maybe, the money issue will go away. <img src="eek.gif" border="0"> <img src="biggrin.gif" border="0">

  15. #15
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    FireGuyNeil<br />You need to post that where other volunteers will see that. Great Post!!! <img src="cool.gif" border="0">

  16. #16
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    To amfm I tend to disagree when you talk about the money in certian deaprtments situations. I know of several departments in my county alone who can barely stay open. Pennsylvania has alot of Municipalities who give very little or no financial support to the organizations who protect them. Just one example is a a township close to me that has two seperate volunteer stations/organizations. One has a good fund raising and income and the other doesn't. Both were desperately in need of new tankers. Both went to the TWP for some financial help. Both were told no. One station had two tankers - T11-1 was a 1980 (milk truck) with no baffles in the tank, had a transmission that difficult to drive only 4 personnel would drive it, and was severily overloaded (3000gal. on single rear axle). T11-2 was a 1978 tanker/pumper that had a bad gas motor, bad breaks, and was wore out from 20+ years of service. It was also borderline of being overloaded.<br />The other station had one tanker - T3 - was a 1974 which is worn out from use and age and is also overweight (2500gal. on single rear axle).<br />The station managed raise enough money themselves to replace the two bad tankers with one new one. I spoke with the one fire chief several times about the legality of the operating a tanker that they knew was a safety hazard and would never pass a DOT inspection. He had several arguments with his director board because he wanted to place this rig out of service. The older members fought him tooth and nail. Then the other tanker's motor blew. They are still currently operating this unit and expect delivery of the new replacement unit this fall. The other station in this little situation has decided that when their tanker dies or has any major problems they are going to take it out of service and sell it operate without it. They have made the Township fully aware of this since they refuse to help financially with this project.<br />If I lived in this municipality which is 75% non-hydranted I would make this the biggest issue imaginable. Imagine going from 3 tanker to 1 tanker in a perior of less then two years. That has to raise their ISO rating not to mention what it will do to their firefighting capability.<br />We all work so hard to raise money and at the same time are expected to take training and answer calls. This takes alot of time. PA is pushing for all municiaplities to attempt to fund the volunteer departments but some are still refusing or say they don't have the money.<br />I have also seen the other side of the coin both in Pennsylvania and in New Jersey. What I am talking about is duplication of servicesand/or equipment and the lack of mutual aid. I lived and worked in New Jersey for a year and this was the worse situation like this that I have seen. Every town no matter how big or small had a ladder truck or other aerial device, a rescue truck or similar unit, and several engines which depended on how many stations were located there town or district. Some towns or districts have a good operation with apparatus that is in decent condition and no duplication.<br />The same is with some PA departments that try to do it all. Multiple units with multiple tasks and responcibilities. Just because you have the money to buy it doesn't mean you have the manpower or training to operate it. My volunteer department is currently doing long range planning to purchase a 75' Quint in 2005 or 2006. This unit will replace a 1984 engine. We need to improve our equipment we have before we go off in another direction. Not to mention all the additional training that will be required of all personnel. DO GET ME WRONG HERE! I am a Truckie from way back. I love doing Truck work. I love doing Rescue work. I also have a very good understanding of management, budgeting, and operational considerations. We need a new Truck like a hole in the head. I told them our Rescue has been overloaded for 3 years, our 1984 pumper needed replaced in 1994, and we need to upgrade the rest of our air packs before we buy a new Quint. Sometimes people see stars in their eyes when someone mentions buying a new piece of apparatus. Then that is all they focus on. Keep up all the good comments. Take care and be safe. FGN <img src="cool.gif" border="0">

  17. #17
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    I have to agree with you. In some instants many depts. are just a meeting place and while others try to improve on their services. My dept. tries to get in some kind of training. Either being local depts. at a live house burn or training by some other organization. <br />For FM61:<br />Your problems are just starting. First the vice-mayor has no business being a commish if he has had no experience in the fire service. Your chief should be fully trained FF3 or 4. As for the vice-mayor wife, she has no business even near any firefighting equipment if not trained. It seems there is to much politics being played and not enough common sense in your depts case. Good Luck to you. BE SAFE!

  18. #18
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    Unhappy

    FireGuyNeil: <br /> I am glad to see that I am not the only one that is seeing this type of activity take place in vol fire depts. This is something that I've pondered on alot lately. We have 8 said active members that are capable of performing interior attack and other physically demanding functions.<br /> Of those 8 members we are lucky to have 3 show up on a full blown structure. It is not unusual to roll out of the hall with a driver and one anymore. EMS calls get a wopping 1 member most of the time.<br /> What I'm saying is that just 7 years ago we had to fight for the jumpseat! Our dept had a falling out due to some interdepartmental issues that were finally resolved buy our governing body. However,we lost approx. 10 dependable members before it was all said and done.<br /> And now we are facing the replacement of our engine with members that still believe that a couple of horses and a buggy will get the fire put out like it did for them back in the olden days.<br /> With no new blood coming into our dept OR the fire service for that matter, we will likely end up with that horse drawn carriage.<br /> I just want to give it all up but the fire in my blood is just too strong. How can the young blood make the old blood see the light without causing bad vibes and having some hold grudges? It is so difficult and stressful in that aspect, I can see why no one has an interest anymore. Who knows maybe 15 years from now every dept will be paid to ensure public protection. Oh there goes our taxes again!<br /> <br /> <img src="confused.gif" border="0">

  19. #19
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    Chris309: You folks have some nice rigs and a decent website also. Seems that your department is well taken care of both finacially and in wealth of membership and leadership. Good Job!!

    However, like FireGuyneil there are alot of departments that are Volunteer in nature either on the brink of closing or circling the drain. And there are various reasons as to why this has happened.

    The biggest reason I have found from discussions and reading and listening is the fact that we volunteers sometimes forget why we are even in the Fire service. Our Membership now, or in the past has let the reasons of why we were established slip away.

    Granted, the," if you aint got money you aint gonna survive" theory is pretty common in alot of departments. Like others have said though, there are ways to meet and exceed the needs of the department by some hustle, leadership, and communications.

    The other side of the coin also says that there are departments that have enomous budgets,but can not function properly.

    Again, that goes back to losing sight of leadership, retention, and tradition. Many can say that they are members of such and such departments when it is convenient to them, and then there are those that say that they have been a member for 20 plus years, but in reality they haven't given a good month of a good vollies time.

    Most of us have rules and regulations governing the amounts of trainings, calls, meetings, and functions members are required to attend, and thank god most of us remember the mission statement in our SOP'S or SOG's or even our GOG'S.

    However, for thjose departments out there that have continued problems of retentiona and attraction, you gotta realize times have changed and so have the people in our communities.I agree that we need to work on keeping the ones we have first, but we need to change our ways of thinking about how we recruit new members and how we treat new members once we get them in the door. These arereal simply things to do.

    I have been around the block a couple of times, and the one thing i like most about the volunteer companies is the way we can make things work, wether it be equipment or wether it be to make the department grow. We as volunteers have come along way since Ben started it all. But sometimes we lose sight of what its all about. That should always be our guiding light. Remember that no company had it easy when they started off. The original firefighters busted their butts to get us up and running. If we did half of what they did we should be good to go for along time.

    As for being professional, we are only as good or as bad,as our last call was.

    Keep doing it for the right reasons!!!!!!!! <img src="smile.gif" border="0">

  20. #20
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    Thumbs up

    I say it again great posts from the newer people who join in. I like hearing from those abroad as well as those here in Pennsylvania. One person from PA posted about the problems in his department. I strongly, Strongly, STRONGLY believe that without good leadership at the top sooner or later your going to have some kind of major issue or problem. SO many times I have talked to or met other people from other places and the song remains the same. Pennsylvania like most other states has no training requirement to be a Fire Chief. A few years ago did a survey and someone was pushing to set a state standard to be a volunteer fire chief. Boy did that one last long. A few of the major volunteer organizations state wide strongly opposed this. Now just how stupid was this? Needless to say it never went anywhere. I can safely say that 3 out of ever 10 volunteer departments in PA have someone in the position of chief who should never be there. There are many reasons such as lack of training or lack of expereince ut you also have to popularity contests and other reasons people are put into these positions. I like the one of the station who has only ever had like 5 fire chiefs in there history. Once someone makes office they are there until they can no longer phsyically run calls or until they die. I also like the "Well I'm the Chief now so that doesn't apply to me any more" theory. I have been the young vs old delema and the if your not originally from our town and/or department from the start you will never have a fair chance at advancement. And so on and so on. All of these things are the things we need to get away from if we want our organizations to have a solid future. I am also a person who believes strongly in tradition but sometimes tradition evens needs a change. Well gotts run for now. Keep up the good posts and pass the word on to others who may be interested in posting here.<br />Be safe and take care. FGN <img src="cool.gif" border="0">

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