'Two-Hatters' Perform Vital Volunteer Role

Food for thought from
"Isn’t the bottom line what type of fire protection a community wants and can afford?"
— Art Goodrich in Why Legislate Against Volunteerism?
Hopefully by now you have all seen the IAFC's statement supporting individuals' rights to serve their communities in multiple capacities. While it has been a long time coming, I appreciate the statement and effort of the association. It is long past time that we all come together to help protect the public rather than fighting over who gets paid and who doesn't.

As the IAFC explains in its statement, "The IAFC encourages the entire fire and emergency service community to focus on our first priority, which is to provide for the safety and security of our citizens."

In these difficult economic times, it has become even more important for our communities to build and sustain a thriving volunteer service. The fact that some career firefighters are willing to volunteer their time should be applauded, and both the community they work for and volunteer for should support this selfless gesture.

Both ways
The volunteer department gains a firefighter who is trained, which saves funds, and the member is able to help protect their own community on their off days. For years the paid fire departments have benefited from the training their new employees got as a volunteer — now it may be possible for this to go both ways.

But if we are going to get an effort like this to work and be sustainable, both sides need to realize that there are sacrifices that will need to be made and concerns that must be addressed. As with any employer, the volunteer department needs to understand that it is a serious problem for their members to miss work due to their volunteer duties.

This means we need to be cognizant of time considerations both as members and as a department as a whole to make sure as little of work is missed as possible. We all need to make sacrifices but employers can only be asked to give so much.

Volunteer departments also need to make sure they provide the appropriate equipment and insurance to cover their members. A common complaint from the paid department is who covers the member if they get hurt at a fire? And this needs to be addressed both by injury prevention and insurance. This may include health, disability and workers compensation insurance, which may be costly but should be provided for all volunteers, not only those who are also paid firefighters elsewhere. If we can make a concerted effort to prevent injuries and pay for the bill in the unfortunate event of an injury then there is less to complain about.

Together we can protect all of our communities nationwide, but we need to learn to play well together. I am not sure that paid and volunteer services will ever get along perfectly, but efforts like the one put out by the IAFC is a step in the right direction. Fire is the same no matter whether a paid or volunteer department responds, so why should we have this unnatural divide? Being a professional firefighter does not reflect pay but providing the best service possible to the public and having pride in everything we do. The IAFC has made a great step toward a united professional fire service; now it is up to each of us to take the next step.

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