Letter: This Is Not Your Father’s Volunteer Fire Department | Opinion

The fire service in America is, and has always had to deal with change and remain adaptable to the situation at hand to mitigate often life threatening incidents for their community. These incidents may involve family, friends, neighbors and co-workers. The one thing that does remain constant for the fire department is the need for volunteers! During a political season when people are running for the Fire District Board or perhaps a Town Council or City Council a platform for candidates will be that recruitment of volunteers must occur. This is an effort that is typically ongoing as the turnover rate for volunteer firefighters is fairly high with the volunteers engaging for only 3 to 5 years on a national average. The NFPA indicates there are 1,149,300 firefighters in the united states and that of this number 808,150 or 70% are volunteer members. The communities of this nation are protected by a high number of volunteer or mostly volunteer fire agencies which comprise 87% of all departments in the U.S. (NFPA 2016).

The commitment to volunteer for the fire department comes with risks, and this sometimes will cause a potential candidate to choose another path of volunteerism which poses less risk and less time commitment than becoming a volunteer firefighter would. Opportunities are found in many operations that need volunteers to help the staff including libraries, hospitals, the American Red Cross, animal shelters even law enforcement agencies. Of these volunteer opportunities no other commitment faces the risks, training time, volunteer on demand requirement, time away from a career or work place and time away from family that the fire service requires of an individual. In our fathers volunteer fire department the members were predominately business owners, local shop managers or owners that could lock the door when the community fire siren activated to call them to a secondary duty of being a firefighter, this was acceptable practice when the fire department responded to primarily fire calls that occurred 200 times a year, but demands for service have changed! The volunteer firefighter of today needs to be trained to provide EMS services, hazardous materials response, structure firefighting, wildland firefighting, in some instances marine firefighting on the water and aircraft rescue and firefighting such as Newport. In the fire departments of today we see a low volume response requirement hovering around 1,000 calls per year or an average of 83 calls per month, larger combination departments are responding to 2,500 or more calls per year in Lincoln County. Few employers of today would tolerate seeing an employee leave the work site 3 to 11 times per day to answer the fire call.

The National Volunteer Fire Council indicates that the best recruiters for the volunteer fire department are the volunteers themselves, not the fire chief, not a hired recruiter rather it is the personal interactions of the volunteer members that can communicate on a personal level about volunteering with potential new members. The Newport Volunteer Firefighters have found this to be a very accurate statement and use this approach to bring in new members. Our volunteers have worked hard to create a recruiting program and to bring in people they know to join the ranks! Across the United States the age of the volunteer members is becoming of concern as our volunteer force becomes older, thereby becoming challenged physically to do the labor intensive work of being a firefighter. The dynamics to recruit volunteers on the coast is an additional challenge with a high number of retirees who have moved to the region for the golden years, or industries where the physically capable are working in a processing plant or spend a great deal of time in the fishing fleet operations which also takes time away from their families. The fire service and community are only borrowing the members from every other aspect of their lives, we must respect this and accommodate what commitment they can give us and the community, they deserve our respect! No, it is not my fathers volunteer fire department in the 21st century!

From North Lincoln Fire and Rescue Chief Rob Dahlman: I echo Asst. Chief Harvey’s words. We always have applications ready to hand out. They apply and then comes background investigation (required by State of Oregon DPSST), drug testing, medical physicals.

They need to have a valid Oregon Drivers license. All required. This washes out a considerable number. Then comes a considerable time commitment for training and responses. If anyone would like to apply, please….please…please.

Standing back and criticizing our lack of volunteers does not help, fill out the application or send people our way.

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