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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

It's Just Not the Same

Once upon a time, my current agency was all-volunteer. There was a lot of overhead and administrative work to do, and a lot of equipment and facilities to maintain, so the department hired a part-time Chief. The Chief ultimately was also hired by a neighboring agency to be their part-time Chief, making for what amounted to a net full-time position. Still more help was needed. An Assistant Chief was hired full-time by my agency to help the part-time Chief. Then an admin assistant. The other agency brought on an admin assistant. Then each hired a single full-time Captain.

This genealogy is getting boring, sorry. Today, the two agencies have been fully merged, there is one FT Chief, two FT BC's, three FT Captains, five FT firefighters, and three FT admin assistants. We're still mainly a volunteer agency with an authorized force of around 60 members, but with the thinning of the local ranks, of the type that we're seeing across the country, a lot of work that needed to be done to keep up is now being done. Not just facilities and apparatus, but training mandates and the like. It was a couple of years ago that we started staffing one of our stations 24x7, and a second one just came online as a 24x7 house as well.

This was supposed to be a godsend for the volunteers. It was made clear that the career staff was there to relieve the volunteers. Relieve them from long post-fire equipment cleanups at 3AM. Relieve them from tedious weekly apparatus maintenance inspections. Relieve them from housekeeping duties. Relieve them from the tiresome 2:34AM "help I have a sideways nosehair" medical runs. Relieve them from state and federal mandated documentation tasks, equipment inspections and re-certifications, training development plans, etc. etc. etc. etc. ad nauseum.

But what did we get? About half of the longtime volunteers have subsequently left us in the past year or so.

It seems many felt sidelined about not running first due calls any more. Responding to the station and only needing to standby as staffing backfill. This didn't do it for them any more.

In my first gig, we volunteers were always expected to backfill for EMS runs, to take the second call that might come in. And of course for major incidents it was grab the second, third, fourth rig, etc, and go. This is what we did, providing backfill most of the time, and we were happy to help. It wasn't bad duty, really, coming down to the big house and spending an hour or two with our brethren and maybe drilling a bit while awaiting the return of the ambulance.

Now here in my latest gig, it seems these volunteers we lost recently were not happy with backfill. No matter that our service area enjoys faster and more organized emergency response than ever. They would rather have the career staff taken away so they themselves can drive big red trucks and be heroes, but before the FT staff got beefed up, they bitched about the crap work.

One of the guys posted to his Facebook status shortly after resigning, "Quit the Fire Department. It's just not the same any more".

Boo-freaking-hoo. Are you kidding me? Get over yourself. Honestly.

No one was kicked out from the calls or the duty shifts. Anyone is welcome to work a 12 or a 24 with the career staff or even ride out with the City medics, and get the fairly generous stipend that comes with it. Heck, for that matter, feel free to take a one-off part-time shift vacancy and get paid an hourly wage for it. If you like playing fireman, all you have to do is show up.

At whatever point it became all about you, because you only wanted to be the big boy driver or officer, it was time to show you the door.

The career-minded volunteer probies who have joined to fill the holes were happy to see the vacancies open up, to be sure. And while those probies certainly are a lot of work, at least they want to be here.

So, thanks for taking your leave, disgruntled volunteers, leaving the rest of us career and volunteer alike free of your collective whiny self-serving burdens so that we can do what we are here for: Save lives and property. Even if my contribution is often just waiting for the next call.

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