In an incredible policy reversal, the International Association of Fire Fighters(IAFF) has called a truce on a decades-long feud with the volunteer fire service. It’s widely known that 70% of the American fire service is comprised of unpaid or barely compensated volunteers, while the remaining 30% are career staff. The large majority of firefighters in the United States are volunteers.
It’s been a long-held position of the IAFF that volunteer firefighters take jobs away from career firefighters, thus threatening the sanctity and long-term viability of the union. The IAFF’s continued mission to grow the union has been happening at a slower pace than planned. Due to the financial crisis, department consolidation, and budget cuts, small career departments have been dissolving back into volunteer
IAFF President Christopher Montgomery stated that it was time to rethink the 100-year-old IAFF platform. During a brainstorming session with the executive board of directors, the idea of unionizing volunteer stations was presented. It was a game-changing Eureka moment, Montgomery said. After very little discussion it was clear the decision was pivotal and necessary for the health of the union.
IAFF President Montgomery further stated that hundreds of thousands of existing firefighters are under-represented and disenfranchised by a system that doesn’t support them. Volunteers are required to complete the same training hours and respond to the same emergency calls, performing labor with ZERO compensation and in most cases ZERO ancillary medical or psychological support. Exposure to cancer-causing toxins, emotionally taxing situations, and the risk of post-traumatic stress leave an entire segment of the firefighting community in dire need of representation.
Union dues are expected to range from $10-$25 per month, per volunteer, depending on the type of department and budget. Montgomery stated that the union was committed to all firefighters everywhere willing to pay dues. Of course, the union local for a volunteer station will have limited powers at first but the action has the potential to upend the entire volunteer system as we know it, effectively
bankrupting communities, forcing consolidation, thus triggering the need and means to hire career staff.
IAFF board of trustee Mark Burke spoke out against the decision to unionize volunteers stating it was the most genius trojan horse plan the union has ever concocted to completely dismantle the American volunteer fire service, all in the pursuit of dues.
It’s nearly unbelievable that a situation like this would occur. Only time will tell whether the IAFF’s position will make a positive or negative impact on the fire service. For sure, this will benefit individual firefighters in some fashion as they will finally have professional representation.
No matter which side of the fence you reside with this topic, unions have always stood up for the American worker, protecting us from big business and government. Volunteers represent an untapped resource for the IAFF to grow in strength while building a stronger more safe fire service nationwide. The unionization of volunteers will redefine the American fire service. It’s clear the IAFF is taking a large step forward, revolutionizing the idea of a union. We applaud their efforts to protect the union and we certainly hope they are good sports.