For years now it has been lamented that fewer and fewer people are available or have the desire to make the commitment to be a volunteer firefighter. The excuses are many, the motivation however is pretty straight forward. Helping others at the level first responders help is not common, it is a matter of unique human wiring.
Last month, a message was Tweeted that caught the attention of many. “There is something in our hearts that allows us to do what we do. Hold on to it, it is one of the remaining embers of the good in our society.”
A recent ad soliciting volunteers made a point that “as a volunteer firefighter you don’t have to run into a burning building to join the department. There are lots of jobs that can be accomplished that don’t require firefighting.” That is true but that has to be balanced with one of the major fire ground issues for any volunteer department. Who will be available and will they have the necessary skills to handle the particular fire ground or emergency situation. It is very dangerous for those who do not have the heart to accomplish the complete job to put themselves in a position in which they can’t instinctively react.
Certainly accept help where you find it but take on the difficult task of cultivating a fire service spirit involving those who are motivated, their families and the community. Encourage those who “can” by involving an encouraging the community and families to take an active role in support activities. The combination will create the organization and individual pride that will attract the ones who do have it in their heart to accomplish the core actions and services preformed.
If not accomplished already, elevate the organization to an elite fire service culture. Not a snobby or arrogant attitude but one of pride in deed and presentation. People seek to belong to organizations that others look up to and admire. The dictionary defines culture as a way of thinking, behaving or working that exists in an organization. Set standards of dress and training and don’t lower the standards just to accommodate a need for numbers. This requires spending more time on organizational discipline, leadership training and family and community involvement to create a feeling of loyalty, enthusiasm and devotion, department and community “esprit de corp”.
Develop a contingent of family and community members who do function outside the traditional firefighting definition. Crisis response volunteers, community activity specialists, fire safety inspectors and fire prevention educators all provide families and the community the opportunity to buy into the department. Hold competitive musters within the department and with surrounding communities. The more the community can relate to the department the more prestigious the department will become and the more people will want to participate.
A wise young woman recently noted that volunteering creates a legacy. The fire service has a built in legacy which is extended and strengthened by the positive efforts all volunteers bring into play.