Make volunteer firefighting fun again (Commentary)
By Jack Kline
As I was growing up, the volunteer firefighter was not only a member of the community, but someone who was willing to get up at all hours of the night or day. The community knew firefighters by name because of their non-firefighting activities: the chicken barbecues, roast beef dinners, pancake breakfasts, field days, push-ball and softball. That was the glue that held them together. Today, that is slowly going away. Why?
Times are changing, they say. Volunteer firefighting has too many demanding hours and too many requirements, they say. These are all excuses. My dad worked 50 hours a week plus side jobs and raised five kids, but he found time to do what had to be done to hold the fire department together. I also worked on the road 50 hours a week raised five kids, but still found time to help at the station.
Yes, there are more and more state demands put on the volunteer. But maybe it is time for the volunteers to try to bring back the days when it was fun to be a firefighter. Just maybe we are raising the bar to high. Training is important, but not when we train for things that just aren’t relevant to our area. Why do we make everyone meet the same high standard when the training doesn’t meet their needs or area? A department that protects a rural area with 200 or so calls and 25 members isn’t going to have the same needs as a department that has 1,000 calls and 60 members.
Experience isn’t valued enough. Twenty or 30 years of experience should be worth something. Just because a firefighter doesn’t have a specific training doesn’t mean he is not capable of handling an unexpected situation.
There are thousands of CEOs, company presidents and business owners who have degrees, but just as many who got there just through hard work and experience. We should look at the volunteer firefighter the same way. I have seen officers and members with a huge list of classes I would not go into a burning building with. I have also seen members with time and experience who have more knowledge than anyone with a huge list of classes, and who I would follow into that burning building. We need to make room for firefighters with the A list of certificates and those with years of experience.
For the volunteer fire service to survive, we need to bring back some of the fun. We also need to make room for everyone — respect and treat everyone the same, from the interior firefighter to all the support members.
Our numbers are dwindling, so why are we trying to fix it by making it tougher to be a volunteer firefighter? We push people away with too many requirements, too many demands and too-high standards.We need to get back to the basics. When someone joins, bring them along slowly. We shouldn’t say to them: Now that you’re a member, you need to take a 120-hour course, do drills, make meetings, go online to take more courses and come down to keep the station clean. It would be better to have five members giving a little something than no members because we only want members who will do it all.
“The two enemies of the people are criminals and government, so let us tie the second down with the chains of the Constitution so the second will not become a legalized version of the first.” …Thomas Jefferson