The Firehouse.com Forums reached a milestone this winter after registering its 100,000th online user.
Almost a quarter of those 100,000 users registered in just the last year. As of February 9th the total number stood at 102,086 users. The forums also passed 50,000 threads and is fast approaching 400,000 posts.
Firehouse.com co-founder Chris Hebert said he never expected the forums to grow so large when it started six years ago.
"I never thought Firehouse.com would be as big as it is today, so obviously when we started the forums I never thought it would reach 100,000" he said.
He estimates that about 70 percent of the U.S. fire service has online access - 800,000 to 900,000 people. That means that over 10 percent of the online firefighting community is in there talking, he said.
Compared to other professions, "That's almost unheard of," Hebert said. "It's because when firefighters go home they're thinking about work. I don't think there's any other profession out there, or passion out there, that has the kind of following this does."
The lucky 100,000th person to register was volunteer firefighter Stephen Bryant of the Mottville Fire Company in New York, who will now receive a lifetime subscription to the Memberszone.
Bryant, 19, joined the forums in late January because "You get to talk to people from all over the place," he said. He also signed up for the Memberszone, which he uses for reference material for his college courses in Fire Protection Technology.
"It's an excellent resource to have," Bryant said. He said he also looks at the job listings because he hopes to attain a career position with a fire department in New York, South Carolina or North Carolina.
He said he got involved with the online fire service community after learning about it through Firehouse Magazine. He also knew about it through a colleague at the firehouse. "One of our senior members is on Firehouse.com all the time," Bryant said.
Several other forum members also contributed comments on the growth of the Firehouse.com Forums.
Engineer-Paramedic Mike Kilburg of the Country Club Hills, Illinois Fire Department and IAFF Local 2720 said he began viewing Firehouse.com soon after it launched.
"On September 11th, 2001 and the following days and months afterwards, I felt FH.com was one of the best sources for up to date and accurate information," he wrote. "I started posting in the threads and have found them to be at times funny, sad, infuriating and informative. I have really enjoyed getting to read about the many shared problems, along with the good things faced by firefighters worldwide. I have learned a lot about places I never gave a second thought to previously. Thanks for all the hard work. I know it is not easy being the "web police" at times. Firefighters are not the easiest people in the world to give "direction" to. Here's to continued success."
Another letter from H.E. "Ed" Woods, Assistant Fire Chief-Operations of the Glenn Dale Volunteer Fire Association in Prince George's County Maryland reads,
"First and foremost, congratulations. As a grouchy old chief, who has been around for a while (46 years in the fire service) I've seen some things come and go, but I don't think anyone in the fire service thought that the idea of a web based magazine would catch on like it has."
Speaking of Firehouse.com co-founder and publisher Dave Iannone, Woods wrote, "Being 'in the neighborhood' and remembering some kid from the Hyattsville VFD who not only had an idea, but knew how to get the ball rolling, (Coolball?) I thought there would be something come of Dave's ideas, but I had no idea that Firehouse.com would be the success that it is today.
"While there are web sites that offer 'News and Views' and web sites that offer 'Forums,' Firehouse.com's ability to blend both seems to be the key to success. If, 10 years ago, someone told me that I could sit at home at my computer and carry on a discussion of events in the fire service, with other folks of like interests from around the world, I'd have been referring them to a psych ward. Today however, that pipe dream is a reality, with thanks in no small part, to Firehouse.com. As a Forums veteran, I have learned a lot, taught a little, made a lot of friends, and ruffled a few feathers, all because the means to do so was there, made easy, by electronics and Firehouse.com. Thanks!"
A final letter came from Lt. Stan Mettinger Jr. of the City of Brooksville Fire Department in Florida, who has become one of the "Top 5" posters on the forums.
"I have survived several suspensions by the Webteam, some of which I may have deserved, and at least one that I did not...but...oh well, we move on. Right?
"I use the web site to gather information and keep up with today's dynamic fire service. I use the forums to discuss issues that affect the fire service community and to provide input on subjects that come up. Some of them may be research related, others relating to policy or leadership issues.
"Regardless the subject I enjoy the opportunity to converse this way with my fire service peers across the country. I have enjoyed the heated debates on issues like 09-11 (God Bless Our Brothers) alcohol in stations, the Lairdsville incident, the Osceola incident and many others that we as a group have analyzed, dissected, replayed, and investigated on this site.
Thanks to the Webteam for making this possible. While I (as many others) do not always agree with your "policing" and with all your rules and censuring, I realize you are doing your job. These actions by you do make for a premier site for the fire service.
Most of all, I have made friends not only all across United States, but in Canada and England as well. I have even managed to meet some of them. I value these friendships most of all and will treasure them forever."
Hebert said it's possible that 102,086 is not an exact number, if any users have registered more than once. "But still, even if it's 99,000 it's far exceeded what I anticipated," Hebert said.
"What's shocking is when I'm on the site at 3 a.m. and there are 100 people on the forums," he said. "That is amazing to me. Right now I'm looking at it and there are over 200 people sitting in the forums."
He said a big part of the forums' success is that it combines Firehouse.com's news coverage with a way for readers to voice their opinions. The result is an exchange of information between firefighters of all different backgrounds.
"It's a hodgepodge of firefighters from all different areas of the the country and the world, which allows you to get a different perspective from your own fire department," Hebert said.
As for the future of the forums, Hebert said he expects the topic areas to come and go as the demands and challenges of the fire service evolve. For example, "When we started in 1998 there was no terrorism section," he said.
Hebert still sees a lot of room for growth and hopes the many unregistered guests who frequent the site will start contributing. "100,000 - that's a lot, but there's more of our audience that needs to be in there," he said.