I am a career FF who also volunteers in my home town. (Not the city I work in). I have been getting a lot of grief and some of the "brothers" down-right hate me now. I never let the volunteer side interfeer with my job performance. But I feel an obligation to my own community to be there when they need firefighters. Most of my training before being hired in the city came from my volunteer dept. and most of my family and friends live there. I just want to do what's right and be true to my own self image. Does anyone out there have simmilar experiences or any advice for me?
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Thread: Career FFs who also Volunteer
12-13-1999, 04:09 PM #1Brian PrattFirehouse.com Guest
Career FFs who also Volunteer
12-13-1999, 04:37 PM #2FyredUpFirehouse.com Guest
E-mail me about this.
[This message has been edited by FyredUp (edited December 13, 1999).]
12-13-1999, 09:52 PM #3benson911Firehouse.com Guest
I have put a lot of thought into this.
I will not risk my family by volunteering where I live. If I die or get hurt at the volunteer job, I only have limited Workers' Compensation and sick time available to me. That's not enough to take care of my family. The IAFF's stand on members volunteering their time is clear - you shouldn't. But, that's not why I chose not to serve - I will not risk my wife's or my children's future.
I am active in my community by serving on committees for fire and EMS. I use my "insider" knowledge to educate the city administration, city council and the community at large when levies for fire and EMS are needed. So far I have served on an EMS levy committee that created 7 full-time Paramedic positions in a formerly all volunteer BLS (with a few intermediates) department. Also, I ended up being the ally the Fire Chief and Safety Director needed to get this done.(BTW, the volunteers are now paid to be on-station to fill out the squad to three people - a great part-time job for college students.)
Now, I'm serving on a Fire Levy committee and we are striving to create full-time Firefighter/Paramedic positions, not EMS-only like the EMS levy. I feel if I can help inform the community they will support the levy to pay for the manning and a station.
In the long run, I have helped my community better by improving their Fire and EMS service for now and always, even when I'm at my "A" job or when I'm too old and physically unable to serve.
I don't condem IAFF firefighters when they volunteer at home. It's their choice - it's not illegal. But, think what would happen if you were to get hurt and needed full-time care. Where would that leave you and your family then?
I do condem firefighters who volunteer their time at the department where they work full-time. If they aren't paying you overtime when you respond off duty, you need to improve your contract. They were willing to pay you on your shift the other day for the exact same work you did today for free. That's wrong and the city is taking advantage of you!
[This message has been edited by benson911 (edited December 13, 1999).]
12-15-1999, 11:50 AM #4Dalmation90Firehouse.com Guest
Like Benson911 said, it takes a lot of personal choice. He's not willing to risk his family for potential injuries as a volunteer, and that's fair.
In my town, as most of Connecticut, I will be well taken care of if injured while engaged in actual firefighting/training duties, because the workers comp is based on my regular job, and I'd be eligible for disability through my employeer. However, if I'm injured while RESPONDING to a call or training (before I'm on scene, at the station, or driving back home), the Worker's Comp rate is equal to that for our town's highway crew -- which is a h*ll of a lot less than I need. It's a risk and a huge hole int the worker's comp laws, and we are looking into a rider policy to cover activities like that that aren't covered appropriately under worker's comp. But it's a risk I know of and am willing to accept.
Loss of livelihood arguements are irrespective of what your career is, be it firefighter or computer geek. Important and a personal choice.
I don't think it is fair of your co-workers to look down on you for volunteering.
I don't buy most of the IAFF's arguements against volunteering in your off time...but I understand them prohibiting members volunteering in communities which employ IAFF members...and I actively support moves to prohibit employees volunteering in the same capacity in the same jurisdiction they're employed in. It's just to easy to abuse. If you employ a paid guy, and wish to have him on a call back basis, fine, but budget the $$ to pay him when he responds.
Let's face it, most communities can't fund a fully staffed fire department, and if they use volunteers exclusively or to work with the career staff, fine. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, for most communities the right blend for timely response and adequate manpower is combination departments. And for most communities, prohibiting every IAFF member in them from volunteering would still not make an iota of difference to the number of career firefighters.
(The vollie exits stage right from the career forum Matt.)
12-15-1999, 08:50 PM #5Hammerhead338Firehouse.com Guest
Hi Brian, I know what you are talking about, I just left a volly dept. The problem is that as people were hired to the city fd, the old time officers and ff at the volly dept would start to treat you badly. I was with the dept for about 8 years and I could never understand why they would try and run them off. I have learned several different tricks from the city dept and was told that they were bad ideas by the volly dept, you would think that new ideas would be a nice thing not a bad thing, but who knows. Just for info, the reason that there is bad blood is that the old city chief and the older volly personal had several fights, but that was years ago, but old habits die hard.
Have a good day and be safe.
12-15-1999, 10:34 PM #6Truck 2Firehouse.com Guest
Our dept. has been fully paid since 1882. In 1990 we got our first female mayor, at that time we had 110 people on the dept. When she left office 8 years later we were down to 76 or 78 and 17 of the lost people were do to lay offs! The chief at that time was pro-volunteer and had volunteers come into the city on several occasions, the first a volunteer company was on one of our fires in over 25 years! If they would have refused to cover for the mayors pour management by coming in and supporting her it would have been much harder for her to lay our people off. I don't think many volunteers would like it if I went out and worked for their employers for free so they could save money!
12-16-1999, 09:43 AM #7Ed ShanksFirehouse.com Guest
Hammerhead, I've been there, too. When I first got hired by the department I'm now on, I stayed on the volly department I used to be on, until I moved. I was suprised at how peoples' attitudes changed - a lot of them acted like they resented the fact that I was going to get paid to be a firefighter! Not all of them, but a fair amount of people turned into idiots.
Truck 2, your story needs to be repeated every time someone asks what harm a volunteer does to a career department. Also, how many combination departments would be better-staffed if they didn't have the part-timers?
12-16-1999, 10:39 AM #8Halligan84Firehouse.com Guest
I'm in this situation and it's worked well for me.
I will say that Truck 2's situation is bad. We had a very similar thing happen in our county a year or so ago. The city (full paid) was making cuts in the FD, both IAFF locals asked the volunteers not to undercut them by refusing cover assignments(we have had an excellent relationship with the full career dept, mutual aid includes staffing 3 full covers for the city) The county chiefs agreed not to respond unless we were going directly to a fire. All but one dept out of 80 stood behind the career guys and refused to allow the city to subsidize fire protection on our backs.
Volunteers in general do no harm to career fire service. In many cases in this area, departments started volunteer and are primarily volunteer to this day. The interesting thing is to hear former volunteers forget where they came from and trash their brothers.
12-16-1999, 01:11 PM #9Dalmation90Firehouse.com Guest
the first a volunteer company was on one of our fires in
over 25 years!
I don't think many volunteers
would like it if I went out and worked for their employers for free so they could save
What motivates people is a multi-faceted thing. Money, excitement, organization (a sense of belonging).
In some areas, career & vollie get along very well. In others, well it borders on (and crosses!) open hostility. That's kinda sad.
Because while career guys may perceive the vollies as threats to their paychecks, the vollies may perceive the career guys as threats to organizations they, their fathers, and their grandfathers worked hard to build into top-notch organizations.
And don't think that just because you don't get paid, doesn't mean someone coming in who is paid taking the job you volunteer your time too doesn't hurt the ego just as much.
When we don't all help each other all the time, you're not going to help each other when it's needed.
Don't call for mutual aid in 25 years, you've probably haven't built up the inter-personal ties with the volunteer departments around you to call in favors when you need help on political battle fields, and the volunteer departments probably couldn't care less about you, too.
I came across the scene in Worcester on 12/3 while commuting home. Now Worcester has 485 men, 100 or so per shift. And it's not common for the predominantly on-call departments around Worcester to go into the city, but once a year or so there is a serious fire and they are called (and not after a lot of hemming and hawing -- you need 'em, you call). And that night there were two vollie rescues squads on the scene with their thermal imagers, and rest of the city was being covered by volunteers on move-ups.
And I have to think there is a lot different attitudes between departments that cooperate, than departments that are proud they don't need the other guys. Check the egos and attitudes at the door and drill together and work together regularly, and you'll be able to count on each other's support when it's needed.
p.s. When things get really grouchy...just remember, a few bad apples spoil the barrel! And it's just the vocal minority in both groups that get sooooo much unwarranted attention on the career v. vollie debates!
12-16-1999, 09:05 PM #10Truck 2Firehouse.com Guest
Dalmation I wasn't busting on volunteers, I was one for many years! The point I was trying to make on not having volunteers on one of our fires in 25 years was with the correct staffing we didn't need them. We have had them cover our stations and we go out of the city to help them too.I have been glad to see them come down the street several times. Since that chief and mayor left we have had a ruling that the city most recall all our people( a general alarm ) before they bring volunteers to the fire scene, but they can cover in our stations , that gives us some protection.
12-16-1999, 09:37 PM #11Ed ShanksFirehouse.com Guest
Hey Halligan 84,
You say volunteers in general do no harm to the career fire service. Then you cite an example where one volunteer fire company stabbed the full-timers in the back. (Yeah, yeah, one out of 80, but that one did do it.)
Then you take what might be construed as a shot at me by accusing me of forgetting where I came from. Chum, you have no idea where I came from. The combination department I work for used to have some call people who told the union members that if they went on strike (we can't, but we did conduct informational picketing, which is legal) and they got a call, we'd better not be in front of the station or they'd run us over. "Brothers?" I don't think so.
Now, since here is where someone typically pops in with A) an anti-union story where the union did the vollies wrong, or B) the supposition that the union somehow caused these call people to act this way. To answer the latter above, you probably won't believe it, but the two groups got along fairly well up to that point. There were a couple of call people who were the type who give all fire departments, and especially the volunteer ones, a bad name. We've all seen the type - immature, quick to act but slow to think, acts like there is no reason on earth not to drive at full speed to *every* call, goes to extremes to be seen as a "fireman" without a clue of the responsibilities that go with the title, and so on. Truthfully, they were the ones who mouthed off, but none of the other call people, who the union members thought of as fellow firefighters, said or did anything to lead us to believe they thought otherwise. Certainly no apologies!
I still consider many of the guys on the VFD I used to belong to friends as well as firefighters at least my equal. I haven't forgotten where I came from at all. Nor do I go into the volunteers' forum and agitate.
12-16-1999, 09:39 PM #12FyredUpFirehouse.com Guest
I just have a few questions for you. Do you work a side job? If so what is your insurance, workers comp coverage there? Is it comparable to your FF coverage? If not, why do you do it?
I am a career FF and I volly where I live. As long as it isn't illegal, what I do off duty is my business. Of course, I wouldn't volly for a department that has paid FF. That is only common sense.
12-16-1999, 10:30 PM #13Halligan84Firehouse.com Guest
Ed Shanks - I stand by my point. Volunteers in general are no threat to career firefighters. In our area, with the exception of the one department I noted, the combination/paid departments started as volunteer, not one of them is going backwards. As far as not standing behind the city guys.. the one company in 80 got the message. To this date their are no volunteer covers in the city.
I wasn't taking a shot at you. I certainly do not know your situation. But where I live there are plenty of examples of that very type of firefighter that truly forgot where he came from.
12-17-1999, 12:16 AM #14benson911Firehouse.com Guest
Fyredup - Read my topic...B Jobs? Kids?. That explains my situation.
I don't think Full-timers work second jobs for the benefits. Actually, those who have really nice second jobs work the FD to keep benefits. I've known a couple of FF who owned their own businesses and worked the FD job to keep the benefits you just can't get in the private sector.
A good example of what I refer to is the tragic death of the Fort Worth firefighters volunteering where they live. They died when a church roof collapsed. There was quite an outcry from the community to provide their families the same death benefit they would have received if they had died on the full-time job. As far as I know, it didn't happen.
It's not fair - volunteers and full-timers do the same job. But, there is a huge difference in how injuries and deaths affect volunteers as compared to full-timers. My contract insures me full wages and benefits for a specified period of time until I have to go onto Worker's Comp. I can also work a light duty position, and of course there's always sick time.
In Ohio - you have to wait 2 or 4 weeks just for a check (I can't recall off the top of my head.) And your benefits are based on your wages (you only get a percentage of your wages) - you don't have any wages at the VFD. Full-timers who work second jobs get paid based on both wages in Ohio if they are temporarily unable to work due to a work-related injury.
Fyredup - what you do off duty is your business and I won't tell you or anyone else what to do. I only want you to understand the risk you're taking. Firefighting is the most dangerous profession in the world - no matter if you're volunteer or paid - fire doesn't discriminate.
12-17-1999, 08:53 AM #15FyredUpFirehouse.com Guest
I think you missed my point. If you are killed or injured on your second job is your FD going to pay your death benefit? Or any other benefit? If not, why do you do it? Surely the money can't out weigh the benefits of the FD job. That is my only point.
In my state workers comp for vollies is paid at the rate of the closest career department.
12-17-1999, 10:32 AM #16benson911Firehouse.com Guest
I get it now...I don't have a second job, but if I did it wouldn't be in such a high risk area as my "A" job, the FD. To answer your question, my FD won't pay a dime to my family if I died away from work. That actually proves my point - if you are killed at the VFD, the Full-time FD isn't obligated to give your family any death benefits.
As far as your state's workers comp coverage - you are very lucky! That's the atypical situation, and it reminds me to reiterate my first point - it's a personal choice and I'm just expressing to you why I don't volunteer and why the IAFF doesn't want you to volunteer.
Finally, your IAFF and your local union has negotiated a reasonable work schedule for you. (most of us work 24's with many days off) When you do your Full-time job for free on your days off, you're killing your union's position that you need those days off to be rested and ready for your next shift. It just makes the next contract negotiation that much harder.
12-17-1999, 04:14 PM #17Ed ShanksFirehouse.com Guest
Halligan84 - I'll accept your point, as a generality, which, to be fair, is how you presented it originally. I'll go so far as to agree with you that volunteer departments don't present a threat to career departments for the most part. The volunteer/part-time part of combination departments, on the other hand, do play a significant role in undermining the full-time guys, in the areas of safety on and off the fire ground, pay and benefits, working conditions, and a host of other areas. The politicians play one group against the other, knowing that if the two groups are 'warring' with each other they're not asking the politician to spend any money on them.
I'll accept your statement that you weren't taking a shot at me, and I apologise for reacting as if you did.
12-17-1999, 09:54 PM #18Halligan84Firehouse.com Guest
I have a question on one of your points regarding undermining.. Who was there first?
That was the point I was trying to make. My company was 100% volunteer from 1893 to 1983, since then there have been a small amount of full time personnel. To be sure, these guys deserve a fair wage and fair treatment for the job they do. Volunteers need to understand that this is their livelihood. The question is, Should the volunteers quit? That is the thing I always have a problem with when some career guys scream that vols threaten their jobs. If guys lose their jobs over vols that is wrong, but many times the career guys are yelling about protecting jobs that don't yet exist. I hate to be blunt about it, but I was in this position and know. If you take a paid job in a primarily volunteer house you may experience some rough sledding. I did it for 2 years and left to go to a full career dept 15 years ago. I still volunteer where I have for 22 years and have seen both sides cause problems. It doesn't make any of it right, but it's human nature.
[This message has been edited by Halligan84 (edited December 17, 1999).]
12-17-1999, 11:57 PM #19Ed ShanksFirehouse.com Guest
In our particular case the department started as a volunteer department in the early 1920s (I think). In the late 1940s the township administration decided to add full-time firefighters to the list of volunteers. Within the space of less than 10 years there were more full-timers than part-timers.
But the question of who was there first doesn't really mean anything when talking about present-day issues. Just about every FD in the country started out as a volly department, or a combination of private insurance company-owned departments. I've been a career firefighter for 12 years, so I really can't say all that history effects me a whole lot. We've always been a combination department, ever since we hired full-timers. Up until relatively recently, the two groups got along pretty well. That does effect me, since I have to work within the results of those conditions.
Volunteers need to understand that heavily congested traffic means their running red creates a dangerous situation. We've had people responding in their POVs involved in fender-benders and such. It's a matter of time until someone gets into a serious accident. Traffic here does not move out of the way of our fire trucks running red - there's no way civillians will notice a Honda Civic with a red winky-light on the dash. Just like horse-drawn steam-powered pumpers, in some cases it's time to move on. I know the fire service resists change, whether it's progress or not, but in some cases progress has to be allowed to happen.
Communities have full-time FDs because of improved response times. (among other reasons) But having one or two firefighters show up with a truck, and not have any help for 15 or 20 minutes, isn't much better than not having anyone show up at all for those 15 or 20 minutes. I'm talking about responding to a real structure fire, not one of the less-manpower-intensive jobs we do. There comes a point in population density and community infrastructure where it's just not efficient to have firefighters responding from all points to a given location. They can't do it in a timely fashion. What should we do with those volunteers? We could demand that they staff the station 24/7, but how many of them would want to do that? Could they do it and keep their livelihood? Their family life? I know some departments are staffed in just this way, but the majority aren't. So the career guys are seriously understaffed until the troops show up, and they know that their staffing level isn't safe. THere are many studies out there to back this up. But the politicians, feeling they're getting something for nothing with the vollies, won't hire any more full-timers. The politicians don't, or WON'T understand what safe staffing is. All they see is that eventually there are enough firefighters on the scene to get the fire put out. So they won't hire any more full-timers. This is the full-timers' side of yelling about jobs that don't exist. They won't exist as long as the vols are in place, even though fires aren't being fought as efficiently as they ought to, because staffing during the incipient stages of the fire is inadequate. The frustration this causes induces friction between "we" and "they." As you rightly point out, both sides can and do cause problems with each other.
Sure, if you take a full-time job in a mostly part-time FD you're going to be the object of resentment and jealousy, especially if you didn't come up through their ranks. But if you sign on as a vol in a combination department where part-timers have been the minority for almost half a century, and especially in Ohio, where a career firefighter gets 240 hours of new recruit training and a volunteer gets 36, don't expect to be treated as an equal by a career guy with 20 years on the job.
12-18-1999, 01:12 AM #20Halligan84Firehouse.com Guest
Now we're making progress. Your problem is with the politicians and the Chief! If you only roll with 2 guys and then wait 15 to 20 minutes, do you ever get an interior attack going with 2 in/2 out in place? Do you use automatic aid? Can the 15 minute waits be documented? Any big losses to point to? There sounds like some real problems in your department. I just think it's unrealistic to expect the volunteers to just walk away, after all, they would be the last to see that they were the problem. Maybe it is time to move to full time. Your mayor, council and taxpayers need to be aware of the facts and reasons.
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