Tag Archives: first responder

Great reasons to involve LOCAL volunteer firefighters

It seems that, per the union for professional firefighters stance against volunteers in firefighting or any emergency response roles, a lot of fire stations are phasing out volunteers in these frontline roles. I’m seeing more and more stations across the USA scaling back the involvement and/or role of volunteers, allowing volunteers only in non-emergency-response roles, if at all: rolling hoses and cleaning equipment after a call, serving food and drinks to career firefighters at or after a call, staffing fundraising events, setting up for or cleaning up after events, etc. Those support roles to frontline responders are super important, and many volunteers are happy to fill them. But there are a lot of other people that want to volunteer in emergency response roles, and they are willing to go through extensive training, right alongside career firefighters, to do it. Unfortunately, there seem to be less and less opportunities for such people.

In addition, I’m also seeing fire stations that are still involving volunteers in first responder roles recruiting for volunteers only or primarily among people that want to become career firefighters and that see volunteer firefighting as a path to that. As with career firefighters, such volunteers are often from outside the town or city where they will serve, maybe far outside. They don’t stick around for long, because they are looking for a paid job: they leave the station after just a year or two for paid work elsewhere. That means such a fire station is forever recruiting and training volunteers to replace those that leave.

Career firefighters are not better than volunteer firefighters, volunteer firefighters are not better than career firefighters, and neither should be a threat to the other. Rather, these two kinds of first responders, working side-by-side, can make emergency management and risk prevention all the more powerful than just one kind or the other staffing a station.

Here are great reasons to recruit and involve local volunteer firefighters, even if a station is partially or primarily staffed by career firefighters, reasons that shouldn’t feel threatening to career firefighters:

  • Local volunteers live in the community or neighborhood, and that means they will often know things about residents, businesses, streets and locations that career firefighters that don’t live in the town or area may not know. This can be helpful, even vital, when responding to certain calls.
  • Local volunteers live in the community, and that means they can be more readily available to back up on-duty staff during an emergency than off-duty career firefighters that live outside of the town or city and have to travel several miles, even more than an hour, to staff a station when all the on-shift responders are on a call.
  • Local volunteers represent local community investment in the fire station and local support for career firefighters, many – and sometimes, most – of whom do not live in the community. Local volunteers demonstrate a kind of community endorsement as powerful as financial support.
  • Local volunteers can provide much-needed continuance and knowledge in a fire station with a high turnover of career firefighters.
  • Local volunteers aren’t career firefighters, and those that don’t have career firefighting aspirations can be a more neutral voice when making the case for a maintenance or increase in funding for a fire station or for a new strategy. They do not have a financial or career interest in funding or expansion, for instance, and that makes their voice incredibly powerful when advocating to elected officials and community members that may be voting on such a measure.
  • Local volunteers aren’t career firefighters, and those don’t have career firefighting aspirations can be a more neutral voice when addressing problems and complaints within or about a fire station, since they will not suffer financial consequences from speaking out about issues that need to be addressed. The key here is the phrase can be – does your station empower and encourage local volunteers to provide frank feedback about what they see and experience? Do you have a speak-up culture?
  • Local volunteers may end up serving on a citizen committee that advises government or even run for local office, and having a firefighter advocate in such a role can be greatly beneficial to all firefighting, fire prevention and emergency response in a community.

What are other great reasons to involve local volunteers in fire stations? What other scenarios, beyond fire stations, are good to have volunteers and career professionals working side-by-side? Please share in the comments.

And on a related note, here are four groups of questions every fire station should be asking itself:

  • If we involve career firefighters, how long are they staying, on average? Why are they leaving? Do we need to change how we recruit, manage or support career firefighters to reduce turnover? What are the costs associated with recruiting and training a new career firefighter?
  • If we involve volunteer firefighters in first responder roles, how long are they staying, on average? Why are volunteers leaving? Do we need to change how we recruit, manage or support volunteer firefighters to reduce turnover? What are the costs associated with recruiting and training a new volunteer firefighter?
  • How does the local community perceive the engagement of volunteer firefighters in first responder roles? If our station is scaling back or eliminating volunteers in these roles, how aware is the public of this change, and what are their feelings about it?
  • Does our web site have clear information about why we involve volunteers in emergency response? Are we limiting ourselves to recruiting only those people who have career aspirations and want to volunteer as a pathway to that career, or do we also have language that also encourages local people with no career firefighting aspirations to volunteer?

Also see:

Mission statements for your volunteer engagement
(Saying WHY your organization or department involves volunteers)

New online resources to help recruit volunteer firefighters

Volunteers needed, but are they wanted?

why you can’t find/keep volunteer firefighters

Making certain volunteers feel unwelcomed because of your language

pro vs. volunteer firefighters

Fire station turns away volunteers – & how it could be different

International Association of Fire Fighters is anti-volunteer

train now for disasters later

For almost 100 minutes, dozens of people took turns performing CPR and administering other first aid on a man crumpled on a freezing sidewalk in Goodhue, Minnesota, USA – population about 900, a town without a traffic light. It took almost 100 minutes for the May Clinic’s emergency helicopter to get to the fallen man. The first responders were volunteer fire fighters, police, and rescue squads, made up of both volunteers and paid staff, from neighboring towns. Their teamwork kept blood flowing to the man’s brain, making each rescuer a surrogate for his failing heart. And it worked: the man survived, resulting in what may be one of the longest, most successful out-of-hospital resuscitations ever.

The key to responding to a crisis successfully, whether its one person collapsing in front of you or an entire city collapsing around you, is training now for what might happen later. Getting training now in CPR and first aid, as well as disaster response (all available in the USA from your local chapter of the American Red Cross), can help later. What happened in Goodhue, Minnesota or in any disaster zone shows that: the people who are able to help immediately, the people who are able to make a real difference, are the people who made the time to register to volunteer, to get the necessary training, etc.

Whenever a disaster strikes, hundreds — even thousands — of people start contacting various organizations in an effort to try to volunteer onsite at the disaster site. The images and stories motivate these people to help immediately, in-person. But what most of these people don’t realize is that spontaneous volunteers with no training and no affiliation can actually cause more problems than they alleviate in a crisis or disaster situation. The priority in these situations is helping the people affected by the crisis or disaster, NOT giving spontaneous, unaffiliated volunteers an outlet for their desire to help.

During and after disasters, what’s desperately needed is equipment, supplies and expertise in disaster situations — that’s the priority. Disasters are incredibly complicated situations that require people with a very high degree of qualifications and long-term commitment, not just good will, a sense of urgency and short-term availability. Unless you have a formal affiliation with a recognized disaster relief organization, and training with that organization, you are probably going to be turned away if you want to help onsite.

If you have been moved by a disaster to help in some way immediately, please consider donating financially. Money is desperately needed in these situations to purchase food, up-to-date medicine, shelter, transportation for trained staff, and supplies. Disaster relief organizations cannot rely only on donations of these materials, and don’t have the resources in a crisis situation to go through them and make sure they are appropriate, clean, not expired, etc.; having finances means they can buy what they need, often in-country, and move much more quickly — and time is of the essence in these situations.

In addition to giving funds yourself, you can help by making sure friends and associates know how to give (you might be surprised how many people don’t know where or how to). A simple link on your own site or blog, a link at the end of your emails, an update on your status on FaceBook or MySpace or whatever, telling people how to donate financially, can be a huge help.

If you REALLY want to make a difference for developing countries suffering from a disaster, please make a financial donation to MercyCorps or the American Red Cross. For developed countries, like New Zealand or Japan, check the news and the internet for what agencies in those countries are saying they want – and don’t want. Please, no clothing drives or food drives, unless the American Red Cross says that’s what’s needed — it’s CASH that will pay for the things people need right now. Update your online profiles/status pages to encourage your friends to do the same.

If you want to truly help with a crisis situation or disaster, beyond financial donations, start thinking NOW about ways to get the training and affiliations you need to do such effectively for future emergency situations. There are many ways you can put yourself into a position for such in the future. Here’s why you need such training, and ways to get it.

And for agencies: People in Aid has a fantastic primer for organizations who want to develop their own emergency resources for sudden on-set disaster response. It’s something to do now. Good info for a funding proposal!