This post is in response to Patrick’s question (and answer) of August 31st.
I think it is an oversimplification to differentiate the fire service on volunteer and paid status alone. Too many other variables exist to create success that narrowing it down to just one does an injustice to the others. I see more benefit in comparing departmental resources to success than I do comparing their paid/volunteer status to success.
From my perspective, the volunteer fire service has just as much to provide to the community as does the paid service. My perspective though may be swayed by the fact that I work for a volunteer department and served happily as a volunteer for nearly 6 years. It really just depends on the resources that are available to each department. For instance, many volunteer departments, with appropriate resources, are thriving and providing professional care and service to their community. In comparison, it would not take long to identify paid departments that are struggling to provide a similar level of service. Resources and opportunity play a bigger role than member status (paid vs vol). Regardless of its paid or volunteer membership, departments without the necessary resources will flounder. It’s just that simple. On the flip side, while resources can certainly benefit a department, they by no means guarantee success.
On a side note, I seldom feel sorry for the career fire service when they complain about the number of tasks they respond to without increased benefits (the same tasks that are seemingly too complex for volunteers to keep current). In my opinion, the fire service brings much of this on themselves. For instance, I read in a trade publication within the last month that emergency management will be a requirement for future firefighters…..because the public demands it. Umm, pardon me, but I’ve never heard one member of the public say “gee, I sure wish you guys did emergency management too, then I’d surely support your next bond issue/raise.” The fire service much too often ASSUMES that the public wants something without every getting confirmation. For the record, I find the notion of the fire service assuming the emergency management function mostly absurd. Professionals exist, schooled in professional programs, to perform these functions.
It’s high time for the fire service to quit trying to do everything and focus on selling what we do best. After all, we don’t see law enforcement trying to gobble up every little niche market and look how much money/support/resources they receive. Rather than asking if the fire service has outgrown the volunteers, I’d ask if the career fire service has experienced mission creep and turned into a typical bureaucracy (a la ATF) that has lost its focus.
Reader Comment: My original comment made reference to NIOSH LODD reports noting higher incidences of career fire deaths in structure fires. The reference was made in response to the original article which noted that fires are too complex nowadays for volunteers to be trained/prepared for. A reader’s rebuttal felt that the cause of this disparity was due to lower percentages of interior attack in the volunteer fire service compared to the career service. While it may be true that the career service makes more aggressive interior attacks on fires than do their volunteer counterparts, the question is ‘Should they?’
The concept of risk management has been around quite a while (see some work here, here, and here). Again, I believe that this is an area where the career service has made assumptions that the public expects firefighters to aggressively attack and die in vacant buildings. Unfortunately, I believe that assumption is wrong.