07-17-2000, 11:46 PM #1Fireguy57Firehouse.com Guest
Is the age of volunteers dying out?
At a recent call, I was wondering if anyone else was having the same problem we are. In fact this after noon, as I stood in our bay door with the fire siren screaming to the citizens there is a fire somewhere, I was wondering, Where are all the volunteers? In fact only 5 people, myself included answered the call- an electrical fire. Supposing that would have been a structure fire........"up the creek with out a paddle or a boat" I was just wondering, is anyone else standing in the door wondering where the heck everyone is?
Normally when the fire whistle blows, "everyone and their kid brother" shows up to see if we need help, they don't do that anymore, in fact the people who are supposed to show up, don't!~ What's happening to the age of Volunteerism?
07-17-2000, 11:59 PM #2FyredUpFirehouse.com Guest
The problem is universal. I don't know of a single volly FD in my area who hasn't at one time or another experienced what you are talking about.
For some reason the FD doesn't seem as big a part in people's lives anymore. Of course you still have hard core FF's who will show up no matter what. We have tried many things from incentive pay, to newer gear to those who showup more often, to promotions and so on. To some it is as if the FD is an inconvenience interfering with their leisure. Unfortunately the me first generation is alive and well.
07-18-2000, 08:14 AM #3George Wendt, CFIFirehouse.com Guest
This is not an easy problem to explain or understand. The short answer, in my opinion, is yes; the age of the volunteer fire department is on the way out. And, yes, I am also a volunteer fire fighter.
I see a couple of main reasons for this. The first is property taxes. I pay $7000 per year in property taxes. It is reasonable to assume that for my $7000, I should expect to have an ambulance, fire truck, or police car in my driveway when I call for it. Most citizens don't want to hear anything about 'we're only volunteer' when Dad is on the carpet, turning blue and they are on the third dispatch for a crew.
The second reason, as I see it, is this job has changed so much in so short a time span. Fire fighters are required to know more and do more than ever before. Training standards are higher, preformance expectations are higher. Why? Because the environment today is different and the job is more hazardous. We killed more fire fighters in 1999 than anytime in the last ten years. This is despite space age equipment and tactics that are supposed to protect fire fighters. Fire fighters must spend the most valuable commodity around to receive the necessary training...time. And anyone who dares suggest that we lower training standards is also suggesting that it is OK to kill MORE fire fighters. Lower standards are not the answer.
You can't blame people for not wanting to commit the time to join the FD. There are many other activities and interests that take up their time. Many of them are work and family-related. They are not selfish, they just put their priority in a different place than you do.
The answer? Probably a combination of several things. One would be regionalization. If there are three contiquous fire departments that can muster 4 guys, wouldn't it make sense to automatically dispatch those three companies to the job? To hell with home rule and turf battles. Most towns (at least in NJ) have too much equipment. There is so much duplication of equipment and services it is not even funny.
For example, in Morris County, there are 7 towns, within 5 miles of each other, that run aerial pieces. None of them have an abundance of personnel. All of them are small volunteer FD. None of them have any type of high hazard occupancy that requires that concentration of apparatus. The solution would be to sell 3-4 of those trucks, strategically place the others, and work out an automatic aid plan so trucks are always available.
Regionalization, coupled with paid and paid/on-call staff, would require a radical change in the way most departments operate, but it would ultimately benefit the only persons that truly matter...the person with the emergency.
07-18-2000, 08:40 AM #4D.SCHWERFirehouse.com Guest
Regionalizing with automatic aid seems the way to go.
However has anyone encountered volunteer fire companies turning away members that can not meet attendance requirements
The views and opinions expressed herin are my personal views and opinions and not those of any organization, department I may belong to or represent
07-18-2000, 08:52 AM #5Bob SnyderFirehouse.com Guest
Generally, I agree with George...we're part of one of the last real generations in the volunteer fire service, at least as we understand the volunteer fire service.
Structured, broad mutual aid agreements, regionalization and mergers will be the next step, in places where these haven't started already. This is just a temporary solution, however. The next step in the progression is the widespread establishment of combination departments, followed, of course, by fully career departments. It's really only a matter of time.
I'm not as forgiving of the general populace as George, though. I really do think that selfishness and general lack of regard for the community are a big part of the problem. We see it in local government, neighborhood relations, and all sorts of contexts. The issue for most people today isn't "how do we get things done in our community?", it's "what's my municipality going to do for me?". The idea of "community" doesn't even enter into it. In that sense, when these folks wake up one day and find themselves paying higher taxes for services they used to get for free and without the ability to draw on the VFC to help with non-fire activities in the community, they'll be getting exactly what they deserve. Of course, in their minds, it'll be somebody else's fault. It always is...
07-18-2000, 09:22 AM #6fjbfourFirehouse.com Guest
Be careful of the blame, though. Not everyone can be a firefighter even if they wanted to. So when they are justifiably upset that help didn't show up "right away", you cannot hold it against them that they have a health condition or other real time commitment that prevents them from being on the force.
The rope tightens around our necks all the time - more and more training is "required" to perform more and more duties, with more and more responsibility (and liability). Even if their life wasn't at risk, many are not willing to sacrifice their families and relationships for that kind of commitment. I can't fault them for that. How can we - with a straight face - tell prospective applicants that they cannot do any meaningful work for us in their first year until they have completed umpteen-hundred hours of training, which may not be available for weeks or months - and then on a rigid fixed schedule which will make them have to move the rest of their lives to fit around it? We're talking about people with 40+ hour work weeks and other important commitments (church, college, family) and you're taking away the last vestiges of time they have left with very little immediate reward and probably no compensation. Like it or not, some people really want and need that instant return of knowing they made a difference, but they can't get that return from firefighting for up to a year or more. They can, however, get it from helping out in other places, and many people do. They can't see it from our eyes, and it isn't really fair for us to automatically expect them to, either. They just have no way of understanding without carrying our hose lay for a mile in our boots
What's the incentive? We see it, because we live it, but we cannot easily convey that to others. Even so, we have guys giving up the department because their family is suffering for it, and I would never fault them for that.
Residents tend to wise up and accomodate poor response and coverage. After a few signature fires with too little help, they get a lot better about fire prevention, even going so far as to planning their own suppression of smaller fires without help. I've seen it. They get first aid training and keep EMT style bags on the property - they become very self reliant. We've got guys in our outlying areas of the district seriously - no joke - considering buying a used minipumper or brush truck for private personal use outside the control of the FD. I can't fault them for it, I would do the same thing in their situation.
There is no fix for this. Too much mandatory training will eventually strip the volunteer ranks of all but the most dedicated (read: insane and/or fanatical and/or single-with-no-life) people. (I was one of those once - but I now have three children at home and a wonderful wife that are all really and truly priority #1.) There will be nothing left but to have paid reserve staffing and regionalization. You sure can't reduce the training expectations! That's tantamount to killing firefighters. There must be a medium here, the requirements can't get more complex perpetually....
How about devising a quick-intervention training program for volunteer firefighters? You can't necessarily make your entire squad be EMTs so you get the quick and dirty basics by getting everyone at least up to First Responder. Why can't we do that with firefighting? If you don't have time to certify as Firefighter and learn *everything* about *everything*, we could certify people as "Initial Suppressors" who only need to know enough to do a search, get the hoses in place and secure water supplies? By the time they're done with that, some fully-trained people will be showing up. What do you think?
Frank Billington, #11
Town of Superior Fire Online
07-18-2000, 09:23 AM #7monteFirehouse.com Guest
What a twist for "where have all the flowers gone"? Well, I agree with most of what's been said. I sure see a difference in our whole culture that has me saying regularly, "I was born 150 years too late". Perhaps a time when not everything was as fast paced, use it up and throw it away, it's easier to quit than persevere, I can make my first million before I'm 20 and do it from my computer, I can get this house for a song and resell at twice the value ... it just seems a lot easier to do or get what you want that gives a bunch more liesure time than just 15-20 years ago. You also don't have to stay in one place to do it. There doesn't seem to be the attachment to a community that existed not that many years ago. Our department is staffed with people that went to school here, grew up, and started their families here. I am probably the one person in the department that is the immigrant. The people we service with fire and ems, if you believe the statistics .... will have moved into MT, purchased or built, raised the hell out of the property value, and then has or will move on within 5 years of building. No attachment, no desire to; I think that is what we are contending with, the sense of community that we probably grew up with, thinking it was always like this. doh!
07-18-2000, 10:07 AM #8FF.FOREVERFirehouse.com Guest
I understand where everyone is coming from. We have problems with getting crews in the daytime for calls. I myself leave work and so do some of the other firefighters. In my eyes I'd rather lose a little pay and save a life or property. The other thing is employers. Alot of companies or employers will not let you leave for fire calls. Whether it be the "BIG ONE" or not. I think this also makes people lose interest in the fire service. The dept I work for has about 30 firefighter (including officers). If we get a call in the daytime usally we can get 10 firefighters to show. I only leave work for structure fires and woods fire and mass casulities.
There also is the problem with all the new training requirements. When my dad was a volly firefighter you went to meetings and trainings and from there you would become a interior firefighter. Now you got to take a million classes to even get in the door. And now it seems were getting more firefighters killed. The more training we get I think the more "COCKY" we get saying " THE FIRE WON'T GET US".
Kids are just not interested in the fire sercive like in the old days. When I was a junior firefighter there was always at least 8-10 jr.ff's on the dept. Now there is only 2 on my dept now. Without the younger generation picking up where we leave off you can bet the volly fire dept's are going to die out.
07-18-2000, 01:15 PM #9Bob SnyderFirehouse.com Guest
Wow, monte's story sounds almost exactly like ours!
On to other observations...
I take real exception to the underlying implication that people are 'just so busy fulfilling their responsibilities today that, poor them, they can't find the time to be part of the community or contribute to it'. That's a load of crap. They're that busy because they choose to be...they want the $350K house when the $150K house would do just fine...they want 4 cars when they can only drive 2 at a time...etc., etc.
I grew up in a heavily Amish-influenced area. EVERYBODY worked...dad, mom, kids...in every family, almost regardless of economic class. These families didn't disintegrate or produce maladjusted kids in any systematic way. These families found time for work, family, and community activities because they knew how to balance them. Also, people set realistic/practical goals for themselves based on their own desired lifestyle (in a holistic sense), not on their greed or insecurity about how they looked relative to their neighbors.
It's our own short-sightedness and avarice, both as individuals and collectively, that is already becoming our downfall, but that's a very old story that's been repeated throughout history. What we see in the inevitable fate of the volunteer fire service is but a small slice of the much larger decay all around us. We're not going to "solve" it, we just need to figure out how to anticipate and respond to it for our own peace of mind.
07-18-2000, 03:11 PM #10George Wendt, CFIFirehouse.com Guest
I can understand (somewhat) your frustration. However, who the hell is the fire department to decide that a guy can live in a cheaper house or have fewer cars so he can be a fire fighter? If that's what he wants, and he decides that's best for his family, then that is what will win.
We live in an affluent society (thank God). I apparently have alot more faith in the people of this country than you do. (And I have been around for 41 years). People are inherently good. There are many, many places where people can volunteer their time, that may not be as exciting or visible as the fire service, but the citizens who choose to do that are no less virtuous. Soup kitchens, hospitals, community boards, little league are but a few of the areas where they can volunteer. And they can do it for a lot less training, time and inconvenience. I will not look down at someone who chooses to follow another outlet that does not include the fire service.
This boils down to the old addage that most people are perfectly content to pay someone to pick up their garbage, while relying on someone to volunteer to save their life. Makes no sense.
07-18-2000, 08:37 PM #11resqbFirehouse.com Guest
Is the age of volunteers dying out? In a word: YES. From the bosses that care about the almighty dollar and not their neighbors, to the lack of interest on the behalf on the Y-generation, to the increases in training requirements, all of these are contributing to the loss of volunteers for the emergency services.
Let's face it, running into a burning building isn't something everyone wants to do. If they do, we throw a couple hundred hours of training at them for the FEW working fires there may be in a year. Even training burns are getting fewer due to increased atention from the EPA about pollution. Let's also not forget the thousands of hours each year that vol. depts. spend begging for money. All this in order to have equipment that may or may not be needed this year. In my county alone there's 67 volunteer depts, with well over 200 pieces of apparatus. I agree with the others, let's have some consolidation out there PLEASE!
I've also had my battles about family issues when I was a volunteer and my family started to come first. Alot of the younger crowd was upset that I wasn't able to show up to help out. They realize it now that they've got a wife and kids themselves.
Heck I find it hard to keep up on training now that I'm a full time ff/emt, let alone as a volunteer. 300 hour academy, 120 hr of EMT, 48 hr of veh resq, 24 hr of HAZMAT, and a partridge in a pear tree. Sheesh, and now I've become an instructor.
Good Luck to all you volunteers, been there, done that, and don't envy you for it.
07-18-2000, 11:06 PM #12FyredUpFirehouse.com Guest
I am a volunteer firefighter, career firefighter, tech college instructor, husband, and a father of 2. On top of that my elderly mother-in-law lives with us and my wife is the guardian of her diabled brother. How do I find time to be a volunteer FF? I make the time. I don't neglect my family, in fact they get more of my time than many other working fathers I know. Do I sometimes have to make a tough choice and go to a fire at an inconvenient time? Hell yes!! But I would hope that if I needed help someone not totally absorbed in their own life would show up to help me.
I don't buy the excuse people are too busy today. They make time for 5 nights a week of league softball, or darts, or horse shoes, or pool, or drinking or whatever. The FD has lost its sense of priority in peoples lives and that is the problem. If people aren't going to show up for fires or training or anything why join in the first place? To get a cool jacket and sticker for their car? Those are the people I don't understand.
If honestly due to health or work or you just don't want to be a firefighter you don't join I can respect that. But to join and not show up when you are in town I can't and won't accept that.
Now am I asking for medals for all that I do? Hell no! But perhaps I am a dinosaur in today's world and can envision there is a world outside of my own life and family.
07-18-2000, 11:50 PM #13Ward WatsonFirehouse.com Guest
Well so far I like what I see. So many times we all think that this problem is only local. In my opinion, much of the problem lies with the Fire Departments them selves. The Volunteer department I'm on has tried many things to keep people active, but it always seems to be more of a temporary fix than anything else. One of the problems I've seen is the length of probationary time. When I joined nineteen years ago, my probation period was one year. Now it's up to eighteen months. My feeling is that a person coming into the fire service today has too many requirements thrown at them too soon. Now don't misunderstand what I'm saying, I am a firm believer of training, but in the volunteer system sometimes too much is asked too soon. For example, it's hard enough to train new recruits how to handle a nozzle/hoseline when the number of actual fires has declined (at least in my area)we expect these recruits to operate apparatus that they have only been exposed to for a very short time. With the demands put on an individual trying to raise a family, eighteen months of probation can take a toll on the person and his or her family.
Again these are only my opinions. I don't want to offend anyone.
07-19-2000, 09:01 AM #14Bob SnyderFirehouse.com Guest
I see some of your points, George, but there are areas where I beg to differ...
> who the hell is the fire department to decide that a guy can live in a cheaper house or have fewer cars so he can be a fire fighter? If that's what he wants, and he decides that's best for his family, then that is what will win.
True enough, and I'm all for personal autonomy and choice...but if someone's choice is to occupy himself in other ways that are more profitable or fulfilling to him, then I just want him to say that. No excuses. I don't want to hear him whining like a victim about not having time. I want him to stand up and say, "There are other things I want to do," instead of "I'd like to help, if I just had more time", all the while knowing he'd never do it. All I want are truth and accountability...two things that are in very short supply today. We are a nation of self-deluders and self-made victims, and I'll call it as such any time I'm given the opportunity.
<< I've deleted this portion of the original post. I over-reacted to something George posted. We conversed by email, and I apologize for my incivility. >>
> There are many, many places where people can volunteer their time, that may not be as exciting or visible as the fire service, but the citizens who choose to do that are no less virtuous.
So, where are they?? The other organizations that you mention later on are hurting for help just like us. I absolutely agree with your argument in principle, but the empirical evidence doesn't seem to support it as an explanation for what's happening today, at least not from where I sit.
One last note, in response to the general rip on training that's going on here...I've found that we get more participation when we run more organized training (as long as it's done well with immediately apparent benefits). It holds people's interest and focus in those quiet stretches between the "big ones". Too much does turn people away, I admit. Just an observation.
[This message has been edited by Bob Snyder (edited July 19, 2000).]
07-19-2000, 09:29 AM #15monteFirehouse.com Guest
The bitter pill for me to swallow is the culture change. I'm not against change, but this change has the majority of people looking at the fire department as a bunch of good ol' boys and gals. The statement about people being more willing to pay for garbage collection than a fire department is unfortunately the cold stabbing truth. The only thing I can see that makes it so, is that it happens every day. They see the immediate results. We produce garbage each day, it gets collected, hauled to a disposal site and processed. Man, that's progress. The fact we train and have to rely on a vintage fire truck that we use once or twice or thrice times a year doesn't impress anyone. The public focus is elsewhere these days. They do their part to support us by coming to the fireman's breakfast so we can clean up their mess and thank them for their $4.00 breakfast donation. Again, they see their garbage being picked up. More progress. At some point the system fails, maybe some of the indicators are the fatalities, the close calls, and we choose to see them as working errors. Consolidation and merging departments has been mentioned several times, and that may be one of the obvious changes to "our" culture on the horizon. I have never before been in the company of such dedicated and professionally oriented people as all of you. So maybe the technical part of what we do does not change it's course, but we do. Maybe we are the vanashing breed, and have to learn to adapt to the changes.
07-20-2000, 06:49 AM #16MetalMedicFirehouse.com Guest
Ok.. I'll throw in my two bits here...
The "Me" generation I see as a major contributing factor. In my area I see alot of people joining the department because it makes "them" feel special. Once the honeymoon is over and they realize that feeling special includes getting woke up from a dead sleep (be it 3AM or 3PM when you include shift workers), they find it very easy to hit that reset button and go back to sleep. We have a monster on our hands I am afraid, and I have no idea when (if ever) things will improve.
I also feel the increased demands in training and hiring standards is to blame. When I started as a volunteer in 1980, my interview consisted of helping the guys wash a fire truck one evening and the next day I was told to show up when the whistle blew. I had to take a mandatory 36 hour training course and then I was a "real" firefighter. All that was required after that was a refresher every 3 years. Now we have to put our people through physical agility, polygraphs, criminal records checks, finger printing, drug testing, complete background checks and 2-3 interviews. After we hire them, we go on to do physical examinations and usually vaccinations for TB, Hepetitus and tetnus as well. Add to all that the usual 36 hour class, plus monthly training in-house, required outside training, Haz-Mat, EVOC and the topping on the cake, minimum attendance requirements to fire calls (I can always schedule them fire calls around my regular job). Most of the time, I wonder why I am still a volunteer firefighter.
I agree with consolidation of departments to pay for some full-time staffing. The political theif-doms can still have their own little stations for what volunteers remain, but I doubt they will be able to keep them fully staffed many more years.
Orrville (OH) Fire Dept.
07-20-2000, 09:01 AM #17D.SCHWERFirehouse.com Guest
Volunteering does should not have to be a burden to those that would like to serve their communities.
What I see happening is that the volunteer fire depatrments are not adapting to recruit or retain the volunteers.
The VFC's and depatrments that have attendance requirments are slitting their thoats. The only thing that I would make mandatory is training, as this can be scheduled weekly or monthly. How can one expect the volunteer today make daytime calls when they are working or take time away from family. If there was a study I would bet there is a higher divorce rate in the volunteer ranks.
I was just removed as an active firefighter in my company because I could not make the 25% attendance requirements over a three month period, although I had attained 24% over the first five months and had completed over 20 hours of required schools. Now who does that impact? The residents, fellow firefighters that rely on me to get an engine on the street.
The views and opinions expressed herin are my personal views and opinions and not those of any organization, department I may belong to or represent
07-20-2000, 10:15 AM #18monteFirehouse.com Guest
We have always called it the "curse". That's the ache a fireman has when they embrace the profession as a life, rather than a job. Being able to manage both is difficult enough for a full time professional much less a dedicated volunteer biten with the curse. Relationships do suffer, as well as family. I stand guilty party, after 33 years fighting fire all over the US, 24/7 availability, you sometimes have a moment of clarity and realize there is more to life than combustion and policy. We are just not community oriented or much less family oriented like we used to be. We did it to ourselves, progress is our most important product, let's make it easier, more accessible, and then organize it so it becomes exclusive, and then let's administrate the hell out it. Volunteer departments are one of the few technical professions left that allow people of interest to join, not that exclusive, but no less demanding or unforgiving as any other high risk profession. All we have to do is meet a minimum. It's a difficult task no matter how it shakes out that demands time and attention.
07-20-2000, 11:57 AM #19JMP17Firehouse.com Guest
Well Fireguy57 it seems your problem was'nt so much people responding to the call as it was none of the ones who did could drive the truck. Many paid dept.s have only 5-6 on at a given time. You said you had 5, that covers you for the 2in- 2out and one running the pump cause remember, electrical fires do turn into fully involved structure fires eventualy. And how many members go direct if there closer to the scene? Lets remember the Fire service began as a vol. service and I feel they will always be around because most rural areas can't and won't pay for a paid dept. You know what it's like to get budgets raised for things we need for our or their safety imagine trying to get them to pay more taxes to put on four paid guys full time.
Joe citizen don't want to pay for it they just want you to be there when they call.
Stay safe & take care of each other!!
Opinions expressed are mine and may not be those of my Dept.s
07-22-2000, 11:22 PM #20Fireguy57Firehouse.com Guest
I'm glad to see so many people responded. We recently discovered a problem, you see the only time we have a lot of trouble is when a different county dispatches us for mutual aid. And, unfortunatly that is what most of our calls are. When our center sets off the tones, the pagers go off. When the other county does, they only go off when your in a high location. Thats why the siren is so, so important. We never have a problem with ambulance calls, and any fire calls between 7:00pm and 4:00am, but other than that its only 7-15 volunteers. Which is basically enough for an exterior attack of a structure fire, but we always have an automatic dispatch of a mutual aid engine, for fires in the borough, and 2 engines, 2 tankers, 1 mini-pumper, and an move up assignment for the townships. At our last barn fire we asked for an engine from two other companies, and we got 4 tankers, 4 engines, 2 mini-pumpers, 3 ambulances, and a rescue, as well as 6 other companies from both our county, and another offering to assist remove the some 70 cows. 69 of the 70 were removed alive, only 1 was killed. We had just as many citizens, and firefighters on scene, when something effects a neighbor, especially a farmer, you have farmers from 50 miles away coming to help! We thought the silo's were going to explode from steam build up, and needed more help, and someone set the siren off, until half the town was manning hose lines while the fire company opened the silo doors. The only problem we had, was while the crews were "donning" air packs, concerned citizens were running into the barn which was fully involved, trying to save the cows So, I wouldn't say we are in trouble, because-excuse my language-but they put up a hell of a fight, and that is exactly what we need, since the day I posted the orig. message we had four new members join because they had helped fight the barn fire, and wanted to help their town more. So I think we found a new form of recruitment! Today we had a few more asking for membership slips!
Until next time gentlemen, and ladies, when the alarm sounds........
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