1. #1
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    Default Losing Volunteers, Why?

    This Article is from the home page.

    Decline In Volunteers Is A Nationwide Trend, Pennsylvania Amongst Hardest Hit


    HEIDI PRICE
    Courtesy of Observer-Reporter

    In 1976, Pennsylvania boasted an estimated 300,000 volunteer firefighters.

    By 1995, the number of volunteers had dropped to 70,000, a 19-year decline of 230,000, according to one study.

    Nationwide, volunteers comprise between 85 and 90 percent of firefighter ranks. But Ed Mann, state fire commissioner, said the number of Pennsylvania volunteers is typically closer to 95 percent, making this decline in volunteers even more troubling.

    To reverse this trend, Pennsylvania lawmakers approved an amendment to the state school code that allows high schools to offer firefighter and emergency medical services training.

    What do the volunteers on this forum think is the reason why volunteers are hard to find, and do you think high school training is an answer?
    Last edited by protomkv; 08-03-2004 at 05:42 PM.

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    I think getting the students in highschool the oppurtunity to start a career in the emergency services is a great thing I wish I had that chance when I was going through highschool. I'm 19 and I had to do all of my Firefighter & EMT training either after school or take the condensed courses in the summer time. I have to many certifications to count right now but I did it all while going to school. If it was included in the highschool program it would of made it 100% easier....volunteers just simply cant volunteer anymore because alot of towns arent really providing jobs so many of them go elsewhere for employment leaving the town unmanned which is the problem we are going through right now with my volunteer First aid squad...My fire dept is fortunate enough to have enough volunteers to be able to provide adequate services 24/7 if its gonna improve the volunteer departments I say go for it
    Andrew
    Firefighter/EMT
    New Jersey

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    Was talking with our Chief over the weekend, and he made the comment that 20-30 years ago, most of the members of our department worked in town, and for the same engineering company. There were a few other small companies in town also. Today, there's relatively few jobs in town, and the ones that are here are mostly retail and restaurant ones. The majority of the department members who work in town today are those like myself who work out of our houses. Even with that, I'm generally only home 2-3 days during the week.

    Also, it seems that employers are less likely to let their employees leave work to respond to calls than they used to be. Maybe its because of the greater number of calls that are run (we've had two today so far), or maybe its because companies don't have the same community link they used to. Heck, we have one member who works for the city who's basically been told not to go to too many calls.
    Chris Gaylord
    Emergency Planner / Fire Captain, UC Santa Cruz FD

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    A lot of it has to to with the difficulty of time management past a certain age. Once you get out into the working world, have a family, etc, etc, it's tough to find people willing to go through the hours of training. Especially in the areas whose only choice for training is the local (sometimes not so local) fire school. We're lucky in that we run our own recruit class. We have enough certified instructors to teach everything, and we've modified the class topics enough so that we can get the recruits up and functional within 2 months of 1 weeknight class and 1 weekend class.

    Personally, I've been at this over 10 years. There is a lot of fluff in the IFSTA manuals. I don't need fire chemistry for 8 hours to figure out that when I put water on a fire it turns to steam. Rollover/Flashover recognition? Definitely needs to be shown. Forcible entry, Ladders, hose handling, ventilation. All solid topics. Salvage? How much time do you need sit in a class to figure out how to put a tarp over furniture? Water chutes? Anyone ever do this outside of a training class? I haven't. Over 500 fires and no water chutes for me.

    I'm not saying it all shouldn't be taught at some point, but since these folks aren't going to be going anywhere by themselves, they don't need everything right up front. People nowadays need to have that warm fuzzy feeling early on in the training that they are doing something productive instead of sitting in class listening to war stories or the science behind a dry chem extinguisher.

    We give 4 classes on CPR, EMS Support, Supply line/master stream deployment, and PPE with SCBA bottle changing. For someone that's not going inside a burning structure, that's all that's needed to function on the outside 99% of the time. After 2 weeks our newbies are riding, seeing some action, and getting hooked. Before this change 18 months ago, we would lose 50% of a recruit class before the 6 out of 12 week mark. Now we lose 1-2 people at best.

    High school and college are the best times to grab people and get them hooked. Plenty of free time, and probably don't mind being up at all hours of the night or day helping out. That's when I got started, and even after moving from outside Philly to Houston, I had to find another department to join. Once it's in the blood, it's tough to give it up.

    Stay Safe - Brian
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    I think BC79ER hit the nail on the head. It's difficult to recruit new members and retain existing members due to the time commitment involved in volunteering. I believe this is most likely the case for most volunteer organizations. Work commutes are consistently increasing and 2 income households have become the norm, making family responsibilities more difficult to manage. Juggling our lives seems to be getting increasingly difficult. Adding volunteering to the mix just makes things more hectic.

    I love being a firefighter so I'm willing to deal with the stress it adds to my everyday life. I've been doing it for 9 years and don't know what I'd do without it.

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    Default training requirements?

    This article kind of surprised me and got me wondering why the decline as well. Could it be stricter training requirements??? I don't think Pennsylvania's requirements could be much tougher than the law that recently passed in California. I'm in favor of perks from the state for volunteers. It would be well deserving and good for recruitment and retention.

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    Like everyone else has said, I think time is the biggest factor. People don't expect to have to sit through their FF trtaining (36 hours minimum here), plus 120+ hours of EMT training, plus attend weekly drills, make calls, plus still find time to spend with the spouse and family.

    We have some younger people but since I was hired in 1994, I think there have only been a handful of people that applied right out of high school, because most kids leave home to go to college and don't want to spend their summers "working".

    I think maturity also has a little to do with it, but that will take a new thread to discuss........

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    Time is only a symptom.

    We, in general, want our nice McMansion, and our RV to leave town every weekend. Few good jobs locally so the kids grow up and move away or face long commutes; people who move into town do so to put up with long commutes but cheaper housing. Can't let the kids go play in the woods anymore, nope, gotta have "organized" recreation and truck them around between every-ability-level-insert-seasonal-appropriate-sport-here and then to Gymnastics or Dance class. Mom & Dad both have to work to make the mortgage & truck payments...and those loans were made depending on both incomes. Fewer small, local businessmen/contractors/farmers...and those around because of efficient new machines have to make bigger payments and have fewer employees -- so if you lose one guy, you're not running that big expensive machine, and finances spiral down quickly. Used to be you had enough hands to spare a few, or heck we'll all go and make up time later...now we've gotten so efficient we can't stop and still make up time later 'cause we're all lean and no fat.

    More to follow...
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    Angry Hello, Anybody home??..........

    AGAIN! This stuff tees me off to no end. There's a lack of Volunteers for one reason. Current Volunteers are too lazy, or too tired, or too scared, or too wimpy to get off their butts and go out and recruit new people. Study after study after study by many diverse Volunteer groups has come to the same conclusions. FIFTY PERCENT OF ALL AMERICANS WILL VOLUNTEER TO DO SOMETHING IN THEIR COMMUNITY OR AREA. The Volunteer Fire/Rescue Service IS NOT hampered by a lack of prospects, only a lack of a sales staff. YOU NEED TO GO OUT AND KNOCK ON DOORS. PERIOD. If everyone would take the time that they spend bemoaning the status quo, and spend it recruiting, we'd have people hanging off the ceiling. MY MESSAGE TO AMERICA'S VOLUNTEER FIRE/RESCUE SERVICE: IF YOU DON"T HAVE ENOUGH VOLUNTEERS, IT'S YOUR OWN FAULT. Have a nice day. (Yes, I'm Teed, you can tell, right?) On a serious note, I'll help anyone develop a recruitment strategy for their department. Stay Safe, Harve
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    Trust me, it's not training requirements in PA. They have some of the most lax requirements there are.

    I personally don't like the high school emegency training idea. It's important for people to get a quality education, not worry about learning to fight fires. If you're going to do that while still in school, do it on your own time. High school is much more important (although a pain in the ***).

    It's just a sign of the times. Volunteerism is down in all types throughout the country. People don't have the time to do it. Firefighting takes an enourmous amount of time (if you do it properly) to learn to do the job and train. I hate when people do this for a hobby and because they just want to do some good. Do it because you want to be a fireman and a good one.

    If that doesn't work out, people really need to reconsider the ideas of career staffing. It's difficult to get a quality crew (4-6 on a truck) during the day. Usually it's very young and inexperianced guys who make up the majority of the crew. Some places are different and are doing great.

    Training requirements in some places are getting tougher which just makes it all that much more difficult for someone to become a firefighter. These advances in our profession are a neccessary evil though and have to be taken care of.

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    I know this may only be applicable in some departments, but lack of available training definitely hindered membership and membership competence in my former department. Class availability was poor and taking classes such as FFI and EMT was not required, so why should they? Maybe if Colorado had stricter training standards AND funded that standard training, this would be different.

    Eric

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    I think Dal covered a large part of it also. When I was a kid you had 1 organized sport to play until you got to high school: Baseball. Now my friends' kids are playing sports, but it's not just Baseball (which has turned into a travelling league that takes up your whole summer). It's hockey, football, soccer, basketball. And most of the kids play 3-4 of them.

    I personally don't agree because some of these kids are very good at it, but all of their free time is no longer free due to all of the practices and games, and these kids are only in elementary school!! What's going to happen to them when they reach High School? Are they going to be burnt out from doing this stuff for 8+ years straight with very little break in between?

    Some parents insist on pushing their kids to do this stuff instead of just letting them be kids and go play in the neighborhood. Play a pick-up game when you feel like it. So now the parents complain because THEY don't have time to do things because they are shuttling kids to here and there.......

    Harve- I'm not saying recruitment isn't all of it, but in some communities it wouldn't help due to age of the people, unhealthy/out of shape people, other commitments, fear, or just people who flat out don't want to help because they are "better than that"

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    Talking lots and lots of training!

    I'm from Houston, TX and my volunteer department requires tons of training before you can respond to a call. New members are required to attend a 194 hour Cadet Class over a span of 15 weeks. Classes are Monday Wednesday & Saturdays for 4 hours on weekdays and 8 hours on Saturdays (roughly). When the class is completed, you are released as a Chauffer's Assistant until your captain and lieutenants believe you are ready to fight fire. I think we lose volunteers easily because people are not willing to wait for the next cadet class to begin (they occur only 2 or 3 times per year) or do not have the time to complete the class. I can start making calls December 12th !

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    The reputation of the department has a lot to do with whether people want to be a part of it. Remember that the next time your people blast through town in their beat up Camaros and pick-up trucks on their way to a fender-bender, dashwackers flashing merrily away. As for too much training, we really have no choice. You have to cover all bases, or you leave yourself open for legal action. I've found that a department that is challenging to belong to will attract and retain higher quality applicants, as opposed to the "he's a good ol' boy, let's vote 'im in" type of department. Not everybody can, or should, be a firefighter. Nobody ever said it was easy. The days of a bunch of farmers and town merchants showing up, smashing a window out, and sticking a hose in it, are over.

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    Good post Nozz

    I'll bring up something else that hasn't really been discussed in this thread yet but was mentioned in the original article. They are two words have just about gotten me soured on the volunteer fire service:

    fund raising

    Most of my department's fund raising profits are used to hold other fundraisers. At times it seems the whole focus is on the next fundraiser instead of training or improving our procedures or apparatus. You are disciplined more harshly for missing a fund raiser event than you are for missing calls or drills.

    There are many vollie departments in this area that are like this. I find it demeaning and degrading. A professional department should not have to beg for money. If the citizens in your response area won't pony up more money in taxes then when the time comes they will get whatever resources your department has available but maybe they will have more competent and professional personnel because all the time that was previously spent preparing for and staffing fundraisers can be spent training and members who want to be firemen and not beggars will not be driven away.

    Just my 2 cents, my opinion only, blah blah blah.
    FTM-PTB-DTRT

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    Default I'll tell ya why...

    It is because that mini-me is out there and on
    this website and it freaks new candidates out.

    Seriously- No time, families, dual incomes, 9/11,
    cost of living, working 25 hour work days, raising
    kids, going to school/homework, commitment, waking
    up at night, personal time, vacations, shopping,
    spouce time, the training, the list goes on...

    I think some of the problem is states need to
    stop relying on volunteers so much based solely
    because its a coat saving measure. (Nevada)

    TIME TO PONY UP AND KICK DOWN SOME FUNDS AND
    HIRE SOME PAID STAFF. You saved millions over
    the years with volunteers, time to hire on
    some people to do the job.

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    Default Re: Hello, Anybody home??..........

    Originally posted by hwoods
    YOU NEED TO GO OUT AND KNOCK ON DOORS. PERIOD. If everyone would take the time that they spend bemoaning the status quo, and spend it recruiting, we'd have people hanging off the ceiling. MY MESSAGE TO AMERICA'S VOLUNTEER FIRE/RESCUE SERVICE: IF YOU DON"T HAVE ENOUGH VOLUNTEERS, IT'S YOUR OWN FAULT.
    Knocking on doors and asking people to do the work of a firefighter as if it's some community event? You will have one crappy department with that kind of recruitment. That's the problem with a lot of the volunteers (NOT ALL). They just want to have lights and sirens on their trucks and spray water on the fire. Because that's all there is to firefighting right? So then these guys think they are the real deal, when in fact they pretty much know not a damn thing about the business. But then again, what are the alternatives? I view firefighting/the fire service as a career and something that should be taken very seriously. A true firefighter should know the chemistry of a fire and all of that other "non sense". They should know more than what IFSTA tells ya in one book.

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    Default Re: Hello, Anybody home??..........

    [QUOTE]Originally posted by hwoods
    [B]AGAIN! This stuff tees me off to no end. There's a lack of Volunteers for one reason. Current Volunteers are too lazy, or too tired, or too scared, or too wimpy to get off their butts and go out and recruit new people. Study after study after study by many diverse Volunteer groups has come to the same conclusions. FIFTY PERCENT OF ALL AMERICANS WILL VOLUNTEER TO DO SOMETHING IN THEIR COMMUNITY OR AREA. The Volunteer Fire/Rescue Service IS NOT hampered by a lack of prospects, only a lack of a sales staff. YOU NEED TO GO OUT AND KNOCK ON DOORS. PERIOD. If everyone would take the time that they spend bemoaning the status quo, and spend it recruiting, we'd have people hanging off the ceiling. MY MESSAGE TO AMERICA'S VOLUNTEER FIRE/RESCUE SERVICE: IF YOU DON"T HAVE ENOUGH VOLUNTEERS, IT'S YOUR OWN FAULT.

    I've noticed your'e getting teed off alot more Harve maybe you should go in for a CAT scan

  19. #19
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    Lightbulb That Too........

    Originally posted by WTFD10
    [B]Good post Nozz

    I'll bring up something else that hasn't really been discussed in this thread yet but was mentioned in the original article. They are two words have just about gotten me soured on the volunteer fire service:

    [B]fund raising

    A professional department should not have to beg for money. If the citizens in your response area won't pony up more money in taxes then when the time comes they will get whatever resources your department has available but maybe they will have more competent and professional personnel because all the time that was previously spent preparing for and staffing fundraisers can be spent training and members who want to be firemen and not beggars will not be driven away.
    Perfect Example. Think out of the Box. Recruit Volunteers who want to do something to help WITHOUT riding the apparatus. We have a couple of dozen people like this in my Company. One lady comes in for an hour or two, a couple of times a week, and does data entry. This relieves an active riding person from trying to handle this job between calls. Another example, a young mother who is a successful realtor. No interest in responding to emergencies, but she handles the bookings for our social hall rental. Recruit NON-TRADITIONAL VOLUNTEERS. It Works.
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    Default Re: Re: Hello, Anybody home??..........

    Originally posted by erics99


    Knocking on doors and asking people to do the work of a firefighter as if it's some community event? You will have one crappy department with that kind of recruitment. That's the problem with a lot of the volunteers (NOT ALL). They just want to have lights and sirens on their trucks and spray water on the fire. Because that's all there is to firefighting right? So then these guys think they are the real deal, when in fact they pretty much know not a damn thing about the business. But then again, what are the alternatives? I view firefighting/the fire service as a career and something that should be taken very seriously. A true firefighter should know the chemistry of a fire and all of that other "non sense". They should know more than what IFSTA tells ya in one book.
    I got my National Pro Board Fire Officer IV Certification by treating Firefighting like a community event? I don't think so. And I don't think we have a "Crappy Department" here. I'm reasonably certain that I've responded to more runs in the past couple of years than anyone else posting here, (about 2,150) and I think I know a decent operation when I see one. AND YES, WE RECRUIT BY KNOCKING ON DOORS, WHEN NECESSARY. Any other observations??
    Never use Force! Get a Bigger Hammer.
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    i agree with BC79er on the training requirements to get a new recruit to a level where they can help or even be at a fire scene, it is too high to say they need to know everything in the essentials book plus more. you don't send a new recruit in for at least the first few fires anyway why not train them to do outside ops only, and then work them into the rest of the essentials and advanced fire training. like everyone has said here, it is more and more of the people now a days to find the time for this stuff. the fire service isn't something you should do as a hobby, you need to get it in your blood, learn, and do everything you can, but some just can't. another point is getting the firefighters on the dept out and recruit, some depts have done and been sucessful, some can't, the reason some can't is there is no one to recruit! our dept has recruited one new member in 3 yrs due to us being a small small town. i also have to agree with ThNozzleman sometimes it isn't even the whole dept, but maybe the Chief or Officers have a bad rep. just my opinion.

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    A topic so dear to my heart that I'm gonna devote my first post to it:

    There are so many reasons why volunteering are down in all areas of emergency services; this is obvious, many of you have listed them already, but think of this: A few folks mentioned how much training is involved to be a FF in this day and age. Well, how many fires a year do you go on? The amount of training is rapidly increasing and the actual number of fires decreasing. So, it is hard to convince someone to train for hours on end to be a FF, when there aren't too many fires to attend to. Sure, there are a gaggle of false alarms, fuel spills and all that, but not alot of true supression events that so much training time is devoted to. I am not a FF, so I certainly can't advocate decreasing training, but it is a possible reason for a decrease in volunteers.

    Also, requiring people to fight fires to be part of the department is a problem. If your department responds to EMS calls and is suffering from a lack of volunteers then you are doing nothing more than a disservice to your community if you haven't instituted an "ems-only" like program. So many departments are responding to 60-90% EMS calls, that you may be losing potential volunteers like myself if you are taking FF-only volunteers or FF/EMTs, but not EMS-only volunteers.

    In my humble opinion, the best volunteers right now are young ones who want to become firefighters. As ya'll know, firefighting is a honorable, exciting and well-compensated career that a motivated person with personality can pursue without much advanced education in most cases, so there are many interested folks. Take these people on board, train them as FFs and/or EMTs, mentor them and let them live in your firehouse if you can, and you'll have some golden volunteers-- at least until they get hired full-time.

    Lastly, we need department administrators, whether paid or volunteer, who can recruit volunteers in a timely and organized manner. I just moved and have waited over three months while the disorganized and volunteer-desperate fire district "processes" me to become a volunteer-- and I'm already an experience EMT and work as a cop. Put someone in charge of recruiting and training volunteers, have a clear outline of the steps to become a volunteer and don't make it so stringent and drawn-out that someone feels like their applying for another job, and I think you'll see people who are looking to volunteer their time to an efficient and "put-together" organization come out of the woodwork.

  23. #23
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    This problem is not merely confined to the United States. In the United Kingdom, there has been a downward trend in recruitment and retention of Retained, (paid on call), firefighters who are at their place fo work etc and are called out as & when there is a need. Altough we are paid firefighters, we still lose people, so money is not the factor that keeps people in the job, so on that basis we are on a par with volunteer Depts

    Changes in infrastrcuture in the small towns where Retained stations are based, meaning people not being able to respond, (historically most retained firefighters in the UK were for the greater part self employed), more "commuter villages", where the place is just about empty all day but everyone is behind closed doors at night, and what I feel personally is a severe lack of "community spirit and involvement" on behalf of people these days. Then there is the "I just don't have the time" problem to contend with.

    As Harve has rightly pointed out, there is also a reluctance on the part of people already in the service to recruit. We have a similar problem over here, where staff already in the emply of the fire service don't see it as part of their responsibility to actively seek new members, thinking that the organisation will take care of it.Wrong. The best people to recruit firefighters must be other firefighters? We actively seek out people who WE not the Admin Dept, think will fit in with what we do, meaning we as a station can carry on knowing we have got the right people at the right time for the right job, without forcing people to wait months and months for an application, as has been mentioned previously here.

    Not everyone in a town or village wants to be a firefighter, so don't waste time attempting to recruit at places you know you won't get a response at. Targetted "advertising", flyers at places you know people will take notice at, demo's at local employers where they can see exactly what their employees would be trained to do, and the benefits of having trained firefighting staff could be may all help. (One place in my services area I know of got an insurance reduction because of this, as they could demonstrate good fire precautions and training of the staff by the firefighter employed there).


    India738 has mentioned that it is difficult to retain people when there are not many fires etc to attend. Reducing training to make it easier for them to join and stay is not going to help the situation is it? If these Depts, in PA and other States are having such a problem, has anyone from their Chief Officer level ever thought of them all getting together and trying to thrash out a realistic and workable recruitment policy? (I know it sounds a tall order, but a small Dept with one engine and 10 struggling staff is hardly likely to have all the best ideas to catch more people when say for instance they may be just down the road from a much larger Dept which may supply some tips on recruitment).

    The fire service, especially the US fire service, where there is a greater proportion of volunteers, is absolutley one of the areas where "more is ALWAYS best"
    United Kingdom branch, IACOJ.

  24. #24
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    Thumbs up Thanks Martin.........................

    Martin raises some very good points. A couple: 1. Being proactive, working with your community's employers to gain support for Volunteering from work is a major step in the right direction. And, Looking at the traditional "labor" pool from a different direction is another. "Commuter Villages" is a new term for me, but it rings true for many parts of the U.S. as well. There ARE people that are at home, available, and willing to help in such places. You need to find, and reach, those people. Shift Workers make great Volunteers. But the Biggest thing to come to mind was India's comment about fixing broken Administrative processes. You go out and recruit someone who senses the urgency of the situation, then they wait and wait to be processed? A HUGE turnoff. Last, the comment about "The struggling station with ten members" fits a lot of places in America. True, "there is no one size fits all" approach, but one of the best places to get ideas and ask questions is RIGHT HERE! Money can't buy the expertise that reads and posts here every day. ALL of you Can, and Do, help others when they need it. Isn't that what Volunteering is all about??
    Never use Force! Get a Bigger Hammer.
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    Asst. Chief John R. Woods Sr. 1937 - 2006

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  25. #25
    Forum Member
    ThNozzleman's Avatar
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    I think some of the problem is states need to
    stop relying on volunteers so much based solely
    because its a coat saving measure. (Nevada)
    (Tennessee)

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