We typically think of salaries and pensions as issues primarily affecting career, or mostly career, fire departments in the United States.
As this story demonstrates, however, the continued economic situation, the upcoming (potential) "fiscal cliff," and resulting attention to government employees' (career and volunteer) compensation and benefit packages promise to keep firefighters in the news in communities across the United States.
Given the constant challenge of recruiting and retaining volunteers in every organization I know, it's surprising to see a statewide limit on membership — or at least membership in the pension plan — in local volunteer fire departments. At the same time, there are many states where such benefits are not even offered as incentives to volunteer.
So, regardless of your state's specific policies, what can you do to gain, enhance or protect firefighters' benefits, safety and resources?
In a couple of words: get involved.
During my tenure as Virginia's state fire programs director, I was always surprised by how little participation there was, in a relative sense, from local fire departments in the state's overall governance process.
I know we're all suffering from election fatigue. But state legislatures will soon be in session again, and we owe it to ourselves, our departments and our service to become educated about the issues and weigh-in with our elected representatives.
You see, voting is just the first step.