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    MembersZone Subscriber SamsonFCDES's Avatar
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    Default Is your VFD DISFUCTIONAL!?!?!?

    Is Your VFD Functional...or Dis?
    Battalion Chief BIlly Goldfeder, Loveland-Symmes FD in SW Ohio.

    Based upon some recent discussions in the "fire" world, here are a few thoughts regarding volunteer FD's, one that is appropriately, near and dear to so many firefighters and their communities.

    In so many areas of the USA, sadly, it seems that volunteer fire companies are giving up. In some areas that may be what is best for the community. After all, there are probably a few dysfunctional volunteer fire companies out there. How would a volunteer fire company "know" that it is dysfunctional? Well, believe it or not, one CLUE might be if that fire company is having predictable and historic trouble providing good emergency service!

    Yeah. I know to some of you it seems strange, but there are some fire companies that see no problem with not being able to get a crew of trained firefighters on the road for a call in a few minutes. Tones go off, and off, and off, and yet sometimes the response is nonexistent. Sadly, many fire companies have FORGOTTEN what they were formed for and why they exist. Other clues that a fire company might be dysfunctional are little to no training, and little to no participation in that training and other fire company details. Actually, let's take a look at this from another style of writing.

    YOU MIGHT BE A DYSFUNCTIONAL FIRE COMPANY IF...

    -There is little to no training for ALL responding members, including officers.

    -There is poor or no rapid turnout for a fire or rescue calls. What is a good turnout or a fast turnout? Well, put yourself or a loved one in the position of the person who just dialed 9-1-1 for your FD. How fast do you want trained and qualified help to arrive?

    -Safety is a low priority as seen at the firehouse and on the scene.

    -25 percent of your members do 80 percent of the work.
    Written and enforced operating procedures are few and far between.

    -The members responding on calls are unable to physically function at calls.

    -You have to call members at home and "begg'm" to come down in order to get a quorum for a meeting.

    -You have a social event and few members show up.

    -Your neighboring fire companies don't invite you to their calls.

    -The leadership feels fundraising is more important than training.

    -Members are subjectively disciplined for silly nonsense type stuff but when someone really screws up, nothing happens.

    -Officers aren't courageous enough to do their jobs by leading, without worrying about who likes them.

    -Members aren't interested enough to do their jobs by participating.

    -Screaming at a scene (or in the firehouse) is not from the victim, but from a fire officer.

    -A clique or a dictatorial "family" gene pool dictates how your fire company operates.

    -Voting is controlled by members who never respond to calls or participate actively.

    -Being drunk and responding isn't really worth worrying about.

    -There is no "formal" and lead attempt to maintain positive relations with career personnel (and vice-versa).

    -Elections are personality based vs. qualification based.

    -E.M.S. to some stands for "Eat More Snacks" and getting trained EMS on the road quickly is an organizational afterthought.

    -The last statement you ever hear at your firehouse is "let's do what's best for the community."

    -Gossip is the best way to find out what's going on in your fire company.

    Get the picture?

    So what is the answer for becoming or maintaining a FUNCTIONAL VOLUNTEER FIRE COMPANY?

    Well, it starts both at the TOP and at the BOTTOM. The members first must decide if they truly want to keep existing. How do you do that? ASK THEM! Sometimes you may be better off shutting down or coming up with a more effective means of providing service than to keep "pretending" to be a fire company. I mean, if members just don't care and are not participating, why exist? Don't give me that "tradition" and "pride" stuff cause it isn't there....otherwise they would be there! On the other hand, let's assume the members and leaders DO want to keep the fire company alive and well. Where do you go from there? One great way to "set the new tone" for your fire company is to have an outside "friend of your fire company" come in and facilitate a PLANNING SESSION. Maybe even someone from far away who doesn't know who the players are, and therefore can think with a clear and non-prejudiced mind. After all, you will need a "road map" for this new trip and someone needs to be good at helping get that done. In that session, members (with ground rules) can identify what they want to do and what the future holds for THE COMMUNITY THEY PROTECT. Remember, THAT is why your fire company exists.

    What may be some of the issues that are creating problems and stress in your fire company? These may be a few.

    MERGERS:

    In some cases, the members of your fire company may need to look at the big picture of what is BEST for the community such as merging small volunteer companies into larger volunteer companies. Have you ever visited some communities where there are more fire companies than fire hydrants in the town? I know, not in your area, but "somewhere else" that might be a problem. Of course, there are many areas where having numerous fire companies is working just fine but in others, the waste is obvious. Perhaps a merger that recognizes and honors the past but focuses on the future is the best way to go. Generally, change isn't easy but what is BEST for the community is the goal, and if that can be accomplished with a focus on what is good for the members as well, then you have a success. Are bigger and related type fire company mergers always better? Of course not. Each community is different. But if the membership numbers and related staffing in three or four fire companies, for example, protecting the same area is an ongoing problem, the members probably need to look at some possible solutions in a merger. Of course, merging of the fire companies may not be the answer. Maybe the answer is segregation of services. For example, in a community maybe two of the fire companies become ENGINE EXPERTS, another fire company becomes THE RESCUE Company and the other becomes THE TRUCK. Everyone still has some independence but the focus is not on "everyone doing everything," which we know does not work. The narrowing of focus by a specific fire company may be a great way to pave the future and actually simplify areas such as training, funding and coordination. And about EMS. In some VFD's, EMS is literally "killen'n em" and the citizens too! While it is commendable that a VFD wants to provide EMS, it really MUST if that's the plan. Otherwise it may be time to look at alternative means of providing the service. Look at it from the standpoint of it being YOU who needs EMS. Can you count on your fire company to arrive fast 24/7 when you are having trouble breathing? If not it's time to re-evaluate what's best for those who dial 911.

    FUNDING:

    Local and State Governments need to help FUND volunteer fire companies so they don't have to spend precious time raising funds and worrying about dollars. As we have asked before, when was the last time you saw the COPS raising funds? How about the road department employees? Yeah, that's what I thought. Local communities need to be able to form FIRE TAX DISTRICTS and allow those in the community to pay a fair fee for the services they decide upon. It is enough to ask people to provide volunteer services; it is a joke that those same folks have to raise the funds in order to do it. Some will say "our fundraisers are moral builders" and that may be true, in some few and rare areas. But in most fire companies, it can be a major morale buster.

    ..And while we are on the subject of funding..

    State and local elected officials also need to understand that until (volunteer AND career) fire companies have the equipment, staffing, training and leadership to safely and successfully handle a grocery store fire, a house fire, an apartment fire, a barn fire or a serious auto accident, WE PROBABLY CANNOT HANDLE A WMD OR A TERRORIST EVENT. So instead of providing funding so every cop has a hazmat suit, every FD has a decon trailer and every fire officer can learn how to identify white powder, maybe they could divert those funds so we can handle the BASIC stuff first. Are WMD's and Terrorism a problem? ABSOLUTELY. But there is NO WAY ON EARTH any FD will be able to handle that until they can handle the more predictable events. Whoever told you that we are the "we can handle every emergency department" was wrong. We need basic funding to handle the basic runs. Why do we need the funding? Quite honestly, it is an inappropriate challenge to get today's volunteer members motivated to raise funds while also expecting them to be properly trained and prepared to provide fire and rescue services. And finally on funding for FD's: VFD's need to understand that when a fire company accepts fundraising dollars it is not much different than accepting tax dollars. So many fire companies worry that they will have to be very careful if they accept tax dollars. Well of course ya do! What were you doing with the FUNDRAISING dollars? If you collect taxes or raise funds for your fire company it is still a moral "contract" with the public that the money you take from them will be used to benefit the services you provide them. So don't be so afraid of tax dollars. It isn't any different than a fund drive except that there is more paperwork! Consider the time it takes your members to raise funds and work toward better utilizing their time.

    APPLICABLE TRAINING STANDARDS and ACCESIBLE TRAINING.

    There is no question that every person riding a fire engine needs basic training to properly and professionally do their job. No one should be functioning without NFPA level firefighter training. No officer should be leading without officer training school and no incident commander should be incident commanding without INCIDENT Command Training. But how far does the training need to go? There is no simple response. It depends on the level of service that is required to protect the community while protecting firefighters from getting ourselves hurt or worse. Some communities protect a rural area, so rural training is required. Some communities protect high rise building, so high rise training is required and some communities protect factories, so industrial and large area structural firefighting is required. The training should match the risks that we have to protect. Once the risks are determined, the training needs to be accessible and to the point. No, the training shouldn't be "skimped" on but should keep in mind that volunteers will commit time as long as it is not wasted. Make sure fire training includes MODERN AV equipment, well written books that address issues at all levels and Internet access so your firefighters can study without hassles and most critically, make sure the INSTRUCTOR is an EXPERT on the subject. In other words, the training of volunteer firefighters has to be no cost, applicable and hassle-free. Otherwise you can do or build whatever you want, they will not come.

    INTERNAL FIREHOUSE B.S.

    For sure, many of the above issues as well as many national influences create challenges for the volunteer fire service, but one of the biggest killers of volunteer fire companies is the internal "BS" issues we have within fire companies. Simply put, if a member doesn't feel welcome and enjoy being in your fire company, they will stop coming down. Sometimes it's just that simple. Take a real close look and ask the questions. Quite often members just decide "it isn't worth it" due to officers that don't know how to treat their members, or fire company rules so antiquated that Ben Franklin wouldn't like them. To truly make members feel welcomed and valued, the leadership must remember that the members are their "customers" who must be taken care of. Now, I am NOT saying fire companies shouldn't have applicable discipline, rules, regulations and fair enforcement. Not at all. In some cases that is exactly what IS needed to make a FUNCTIONAL fire company out of a dysfunctional fire company! On the other hand, a few psychos on a power trip running a VFD will drive members out, quickly. What is being done for all the members of your fire company? What incentive do they have to be there? In some towns the incentive is to work in a well-respected fire company that is well-led and well-trained. In some towns it's that plus a cool new jacket each year. In others, it's a retirement program or a great insurance plan. And in one fire company I know of, along with all that, the soda and snack machines are free. Sound like a big deal? Sometimes it's the little stuff that matters. Simply put, if "it sucks to go down to the firehouse" it's time to find out why. Keep in mind that volunteer fire companies ONLY WORK if members WANT to come down to the firehouse! This is simple stuff. It's also not all about the leadership and officers. Firefighters, you joined to serve, so don't try to totally "customize" your fire company to meet YOUR personal needs. Respond quickly and safely every time the tones go off and participate in training regularly, and remember "Ask NOT what your fire company can do for you... ask what YOU can do for your fire company"...(with apologies to JFK!) From my standpoint, the volunteer fire service has a good, solid future but CHANGE may be needed for some companies in order to match the needs of those they serve. That means the internal organization may have to change to meet the needs of today's volunteer, and then the fire company must change to meet the needs of the community they serve. Is this stuff easy? Absolutely not. But it's all a matter of how badly a fire company wants to remain alive, well, effective and healthy to carry on the great American tradition. Sometimes it's a few organizational changes, sometimes it's leadership changes. In some areas, VFD's have now become combination FD's with some good career firefighters to help get the job done. In others, they have merged partially or completely to provide better and more effective service. Whatever may be needed, when it's planned for and done right, with the needs of the public as the Number One priority -- the future looks good.
    -Brotherhood: I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.
    -Mistakes: It could be that the purpose of you life is to serve as a warning to others.

    -Adversity: That which does not kill me postpones the inevitable.

    -Despair: Its always darkest before it goes Pitch Black.


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    Default Re: Is your VFD DISFUCTIONAL!?!?!?

    Originally posted by SamsonFCDES


    -Members are subjectively disciplined for silly nonsense type stuff but when someone really screws up, nothing happens.

    -Officers aren't courageous enough to do their jobs by leading, without worrying about who likes them.

    -Screaming at a scene (or in the firehouse) is not from the victim, but from a fire officer.

    -A clique or a dictatorial "family" gene pool dictates how your fire company operates.

    -Voting is controlled by members who never respond to calls or participate actively.

    -There is no "formal" and lead attempt to maintain positive relations with career personnel (and vice-versa).

    -Elections are personality based vs. qualification based.

    -Gossip is the best way to find out what's going on in your fire company.

    Sounds a lot like my dept !!!!!
    Except the Vol not wanting to relate with career its the other way around.

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    MembersZone Subscriber ChiefReason's Avatar
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    SETTING GOALS, RAISING EXPECTATIONS, HONORING COMMITMENTS AND HARBORING HIGH SELF-ESTEEM WILL, IN ALL LIKELIHOOD, STEER YOU AWAY FROM BECOMING DYSFUNCTIONAL.
    Excellent article on recognizing symptoms of the dysfunctional fire departments.
    Maintaining the status quo and having a casual, cavalier attitude towards mediocrity will cause dysfunction.
    The sad part is: communities will often recognize dysfunction even before the fire department does. They are the end user and can see it. Firefighters can't because, in their mind, they are still putting out a product/service.
    Excellent article, Chief BillyG.
    I hope to write like that some day!
    CR

    Visit www.iacoj.com
    Remember Bradley Golden (9/25/01)
    RIP HOF Robert J. Compton(ENG6511)

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    the sad part of this is that their are front line officers...including chiefs that have never had any incident command training or any training above the minimum level required by which ever state your in but because they have been around for many years they think they are quilified to be an officer...in my dept its not the level of training you have... its how many buddys show up to vote for you ...thats how officers are elected..

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    Originally posted by firewally1966
    the sad part of this is that their are front line officers...including chiefs that have never had any incident command training or any training above the minimum level required by which ever state your in but because they have been around for many years they think they are quilified to be an officer...in my dept its not the level of training you have... its how many buddys show up to vote for you ...thats how officers are elected..
    Ditto.

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    Forum Member FiftyOnePride's Avatar
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    About a year ago we had 4 of the "ifs", all the more minor stuff, but none the less we had. But we got some things changed around and now I can see only 1 that we have, the 25% doing 80% of the work.

    So I'm glad, I thought Mr. G would post something like that when I started reading and thought we would get a lot more. But we didnt, so I'm happy.
    Last edited by FiftyOnePride; 06-15-2004 at 03:17 PM.
    JLS
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    MembersZone Subscriber SamsonFCDES's Avatar
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    Originally posted by FiftyOnePride
    About a year ago we had 4 of the "ifs", all the more minor stuff, but none the less we had. But we got some things changed around and now I can see only 1 that we have, the 25% doing 80% of the work.
    Dont worry about this one, it is not a FD thing, its a life thing. There are always and will always be in the realm of human endeavor those who make things happen, those who stand by and watch things happen, and a few that wonder "What Happened?"

    80/20 Rule

    Also known as Pareto's Principle, the 80/20 Rule says that 20 percent of something always are responsible for 80 percent of the results.

    Vilfredo Pareto was an economist who is credited with establishing what is now widely known as the Pareto Principle or 80/20 rule. When he discovered the principle, it established that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. Later, he discovered that the pareto principle was valid in other parts of his life, such as gardening: 80% of his garden peas were produced by 20% of the peapods.

    Some Sample 80/20 Rule Applications

    80% of process defects arise from 20% of the process issues.
    20% of your sales force produces 80% of your company revenues.
    80% of delays in schedule arise from 20% of the possible causes of the delays.
    80% of customer complaints arise from 20% of your products or services.
    (The above examples are rough estimates.)

    80 percent or 20 percent?

    Here are some signs that will help you to recognize whether you're spending your time as you should:

    You're in your 80 percent if the following statements ring true:

    -You're working on tasks other people want you to, but you have no investment in them.

    -You're frequently working on tasks labeled "urgent."

    -You're spending time on tasks you are not usually good at doing.

    -Activities are taking a lot longer than you expected.

    -You find yourself complaining all the time.



    You're in your 20 percent if:

    -You're engaged in activities that advance your overall purpose in life (assuming you know what that is — and you should!).

    -You're doing things you have always wanted to do or that make you feel good about yourself.

    -You're working on tasks you don't like, but you're doing them knowing they relate to the bigger picture.

    -You're hiring people to do the tasks you are not good at or don't like doing.

    -You're smiling.








    -Brotherhood: I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.
    -Mistakes: It could be that the purpose of you life is to serve as a warning to others.

    -Adversity: That which does not kill me postpones the inevitable.

    -Despair: Its always darkest before it goes Pitch Black.

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    Forum Member cellblock's Avatar
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    Samson,
    While I disagree with you 80% of the time, 20% of the time I agree with you on the topic we are discussing. Strange, huh? Anyway. Great post. I had heard of the 80/20 rule before but until now had never know the story behind it.
    Cellblock

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    Forum Member ndvfdff33's Avatar
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    Default Re: Is your VFD DISFUCTIONAL!?!?!?

    Narrow it down to my dept..lol

    Originally posted by SamsonFCDES


    YOU MIGHT BE A DYSFUNCTIONAL FIRE COMPANY IF...

    -25 percent of your members do 80 percent of the work.
    Written and enforced operating procedures are few and far between.

    -The members responding on calls are unable to physically function at calls.(Some yes)

    -You have to call members at home and "begg'm" to come down in order to get a quorum for a meeting.

    -You have a social event and few members show up.

    -Your neighboring fire companies don't invite you to their calls. (Sometimes)..lol..We're not to well liked but thats because of our chief

    -The leadership feels fundraising is more important than training.

    -Members aren't interested enough to do their jobs by participating.

    -Screaming at a scene (or in the firehouse) is not from the victim, but from a fire officer. -On the scene its because we don't have enough portables..Damn Cheap ***** chief

    -A clique or a dictatorial "family" gene pool dictates how your fire company operates. Lets see..Chief, 1st and Second Deputy...1st Deputy..Father..2nd Deputy..Son..Chief...2nd Deputys Father in Law

    -Voting is controlled by members who never respond to calls or participate actively.

    -Elections are personality based vs. qualification based. -To an extent

    -Gossip is the best way to find out what's going on in your fire company.


    So I guess we're semi-dysfunctional...
    If someone with multiple personalities threatens to kill himself, is it considered a hostage situation?

    Ryan

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    MembersZone Subscriber SamsonFCDES's Avatar
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    I have 30 copies of this article on my desk right now, and I am thinking of taking them to our mothly buisness meeting monday night...

    But I am a bit worried at how many of the problem areas we can check off!

    No doubt about it, we are disfunctional, so maybe it is best to get it out in the open and start fixing it.

    I showed it to the Chief, we was a bit appaled at some of the stuff, especialy the comments in regaurds to the leadership.

    Nobody likes critisism, and we have so many emotionaly sensitive cry babies that they may freak out if anything is pointed out to them...

    Me, I dont care, I think they need to feel bad for being a bunch of clowns, and they need to fix it!
    -Brotherhood: I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.
    -Mistakes: It could be that the purpose of you life is to serve as a warning to others.

    -Adversity: That which does not kill me postpones the inevitable.

    -Despair: Its always darkest before it goes Pitch Black.

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    MembersZone Subscriber SamsonFCDES's Avatar
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    Here is a letter to our MT news bulliten.

    Letter to the Editor

    BC Goldfeder's recent article in the FSTS newsletter did an excellent job of articulating benchmarks for anyone to honestly and accurately appraising not only their own VFD, but for this branch of Emergency Services in Montana as a whole. While volunteer departments exist in Montana that can be defined as functional or professional, an accurate but politically incorrect appraisal would show that most Montana VFDs meet the criteria expressed in this article for "dysfunctional" organizations.

    Chief Goldfeder writes "No one should be functioning without NFPA level firefighter training. No officer should be leading without officer training school..." It can be safely stated that the majority of volunteer departments in Montana exist in exactly this condition! Compare firefighting in Montana to other emergency service functions. IF one desired to be a member of a community Quick Response Unit or Ambulance Company, one must meet meet standards set by professional bodies, and be licensed, i.e. you must take a a well developed training courses and pass an administered test. In Montana to be become a firefighter one can be simply "voted in"; no professional standards are set or enforced except by a relatviely few departments. While the politically correct stand in Montana is that "local communities" should set these standards, let us remember that Montana taxpayers fund the retirement account for firefighters, which currently has little or no oversight, allowing departments to decide what constitutes the required training hours to be eligible for retirement. When will the time come in this State when those in leadership positions in the vocation that we love stand up and demand that ALL dpeartments and ALL firefighters ante up and either obtain and maintain professional standards, or find other way of serving their community? John Andrechak


    Rings true.

    Some places are bound to be disfuctional due to incredibly tiny budgets. Some places its the personel, some places it just the way things are.

    Yes, it needs to change, but that is going to cost some serious money for training and equiping.

    Oh, woe is me.
    -Brotherhood: I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.
    -Mistakes: It could be that the purpose of you life is to serve as a warning to others.

    -Adversity: That which does not kill me postpones the inevitable.

    -Despair: Its always darkest before it goes Pitch Black.

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    Forum Member explr985's Avatar
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    Default Re: Re: Is your VFD DISFUCTIONAL!?!?!?

    Originally posted by k1500chevy97



    Sounds a lot like my dept !!!!!
    Yeah, mine too!
    No longer an explorer, but I didn't wanna lose my posts.

    IACOJ 2003

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    Originally posted by firewally1966
    the sad part of this is that their are front line officers...including chiefs that have never had any incident command training or any training above the minimum level required by which ever state your in but because they have been around for many years they think they are quilified to be an officer...in my dept its not the level of training you have... its how many buddys show up to vote for you ...thats how officers are elected..

    In the state of South Carolina, firefighters only need to pass the OSHA firefighter portion of the IFSTA FF1 skills to be considered an “interior structural firefighter”.
    These skills are building search, PPE and SCBA usage, ladders, fire extinguishers, hose loads and rolls, fire streams and fire attack.
    Individual counties or fire districts may set their standards higher and will not consider anyone to be an “interior structural firefighter” until they meet IFSTA FF1 standards.
    In the county I volunteer in, many departments have firefighters and officers that only meet the minimum state standard of the OSHA standard.
    This lack of training creates a dangerous situation for both the community and for the firefighters.
    Many “Safety Officers” in the county are the wives of department members or older department members that cannot physically do the work of firefighters…most have no training in Safety, ICS, fire behavior or building construction.
    Many officers have only the OSHA training for firefighters and little to none officer training.
    Many departments have apparatus operators who cannot figure friction loss, calculate GPM needed to control and extinguish fires or even have training in the operation of an emergency vehicle.
    At most incidents there is no designated incident commander nor is there any formal accountability system. When a command is established, most firefighters do not understand the concept of ICS; therefore the command system crumbles faster than it was established.
    The state fire academy (an extremely nice and extensive fire training grounds) is a 30 minute drive from the center of the county…yet it’s almost impossible to get anyone to go to the training offered and the academy offers the majority of its curriculum to the departments (at their home station) at a charge of $5 per student (for most offerings). Some classes are free under federal grants.
    Until the county sets a standard for firefighters and officers…and demands that the individual departments abide by the standards, this dangerous condition will continue.
    The community is the one who ultimately suffers.
    "where is my second due?"
    I.A.C.O.J. 2003

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    And to add to my last comment…
    The Federal goverment and some states are in a tizzy to fund training and equipment to protect communities from terrorist attacks from both foreign and domestic threats.
    How is a fire department going to meet the challenge of a WMD incident when its members and officers cannot meet the challenge of a simple everyday incident and the mission of the fire department to Save lives, stabilize incidents and preserve property .
    IMHO more funding to properly train and equip small fire departments to meet the everyday needs of the community they serve would go a lot further.
    Many small departments are running 20-30 year old equipment as first out and have outdated PPE and SCBAs, no money for training and to replace old, broken and obsolete equipment..much less have enough money to get a matching fire grant.
    "where is my second due?"
    I.A.C.O.J. 2003

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    How do we correct the problem????????

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    Originally posted by fire1305
    How do we correct the problem????????
    First and foremost we have to get out of the "they are just volunteers" or "I'm just a volunteer" mindset.
    Fire is fire..plain and simple
    There are 2 types of firefighters...highly trained and not so trained.
    Its time to set a standard for all firefighters to meet...wait, the standard is there...it's time to follow the standard.
    "where is my second due?"
    I.A.C.O.J. 2003

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