Station Pride Articles

The Volunteer Solution Part 3

Before we get started on the meat of this 3rd leg… A fair amount of discussion occurred at the end of Part 1 and Part 2 which led me to an unplanned Part 3 discussing expectations. Expectations can be tricky to navigate. There are moments when expectations run parallel and other times when they meet. When and where they meet is when the engine that drives this paradigm begins firing on all cylinders.

The following are a list of expectations within the relative circle of our discussion.

  • The community’s expectation of the Fire Department
  • The Fire Department’s expectation of the community
  • The Fire Chiefs’ expectation of his volunteers
  • The Volunteer’s expectation of their Fire Chief
  • The fire department’s expectation of ourselves.

The most important expectation is that of the community.

What does the Community Expect of its’ Fire Department?

The answer is a fairly simple one. They expect that when they dial 911 for an emergency that someone will show up to help. In most cases, when it’s an emergency, whether routine or life & death, it doesn’t matter to them, at the moment, who shows up, as long as someone who can help mitigate or has a relative sense to handle the situation and/or means to communicate the problem to a higher echelon of mitigation.

The inner-workings of the fire service are largely foreign to the average citizen. I’ve responded as a volunteer where homeowners assumed their fire department consisted of paid staff and likewise, I’ve responded to calls as an EMT-Basic and the family couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t start a line and administer medication.  The general public isn’t likely aware of the numerous certifications required, the engine company/truck company rivalries, the turf wars, and the politics between career, combination, or volunteers. The public doesn’t care about the logo’s painted on the trucks, whether or not you are properly equipped or adequately funded or any of the trivial things we seem to focus on.  They don’t know the difference between TFT’s and smooth bore nozzles or even what that means for how we attack fires. They don’t understand 2 in, 2 out, or that most ladder trucks don’t have water, the list is endless. The general public, by and large, has no idea about the world we (firefighters) live in.

The hard point here is that, in a time of dire crisis, the citizens of your community care about none of our internal politics, as long as someone capable and/or anyone with flashing lights and a radio arrives to help them. What they do EXPECT, is that WE as professionals have all the backend issues figured out in order to provide a functional service. When it’s not functional, the residents of your community can pick up on that right away. It’s important to set aside the focus on our piety internal situations and realize all decisions made during the course of managing our fire department point directly to the product you provide the citizens of your community. Fire Departments don’t produce much as an organization, if anything, fire department’s naturally consume more than they produce, but in our consumption, there is value and a product we provide. Ensuring we’re providing the best possible product for the funding we’re given is our ultimate responsibility and it doesn’t go unnoticed.

The Fire Department’s Expectation of the Community.

First and foremost, the communities role with/for/in the fire department must be defined. If the community does not understand its role in supporting their fire department, then you will not be supported, plain and simple. Volunteer fire stations MUST act with calculated communication to

convey their needs, their challenges, and their situations to the residents they protect. Information and marketing campaigns are an important tool. There is power in social media, and it’s free. A community should know that without THEM there is no emergency response. Every community must provide its fire department with willing, able, and capable responders, as well as, financial backing. Without the community, there is no fire department. Understanding the role they play allows your community to better serve the needs of their fire department. Don’t be afraid to make your financial documents and spending public. For most of you this is a legal requirement, for others it’s optional. Bottom-line, transparency is critical, information is power, and it should be shared with the public.

The Fire Chief’s Expectations of his/her Volunteers’

The Fire Chief of a volunteer fire department does not have the luxury of hand-picking his/her volunteers. The Chief has to work with and develop the volunteers the community provides. Active recruiting can help bolster your roster but overall, a fire chief MUST manage the individuals who step forward. Expectations for firefighters must be defined clearly. A great place to begin in defining expectations is to create a signed agreement of the U.S. Fire Administrations Code of Ethics (here). You can alter or add to the code of ethics to fit your organization’s needs. A poster-sized code of ethics should be clearly posted in your firehouse as a reminder to the agreement. Likewise, new probationary firefighters must be provided with a roadmap establishing clear, realistic benchmarks for achieving full member status.   Likewise, a set of policies and procedures that clearly defines the parameters for membership, expectations, and requirements. No member of your organization should be unsure of his/her role within the department. Another expectation that should be sharply communicated is an overall culture of inclusion. Officers must actively participate in overcoming internal clicks and camps, it’s one team one fight all the way. Problem individuals or members who have difficulty fitting in will require more time and energy, it’s critical for leaders to lean into these individuals instead of shunning them.  We all have to work together and the sentiment of the department’s culture is set by a combined leadership. If your leaders are inciting division amongst the ranks, that leader should be professionally developed and provided a path to successful leadership within the organization. 

The Volunteer’s Expectation of their Fire Chief

The volunteer’s of your organization will have very simple expectations of the fire department and the fire chief. First, they’ll expect that you will provide them with the proper personal protective equipment and adequate training in order to keep them safe. Firefighting is risky a business and the safety of your members is paramount. They all have a living to make elsewhere. injuries while volunteering will likely affect their livelihoods.  Second, volunteer firefighters expect that their time will be respected. Running calls, attending meetings, training, classes, and the like add up to an enormous amount of time. It rivals a part-time job, if not more. Volunteer firefighters aren’t fairweather, it’s a lifestyle we’re asking them to live. As a fire chief, we have to ensure that meetings follow strict agendas and topics of discussion. Training must be planned well, be useful, and informative. Emergency calls must be emergencies. The amount of effort you give to meetings and training will be noticeable and it all amounts to having respect for the time they are giving you. The more respect you give, the more you’ll get in return. After all, time is the most precious thing a volunteer has to give, as they can never get it back.

The Fire Department’s Expectation of Ourselves

This one is really for each organization to decide for themselves. We should all expect that we’ll be part of an honorable and thoughtful organization. With its focus on developing its membership as well as the product that is provided to the citizens of the community. Every interaction with a member of the public is an opportunity to leave a lasting impression, whether routine or emergent. The most important aspect of this is to ensure you have a vision and a mission statement that actually means something and provides a beacon for your members to follow.

Be mindful, and be prideful.

Part 4 we’ll discuss clicks, camps, and divisiveness within the fire department. 

About Jon Marr (29 Articles)
Jon Marr is a 18-year fire service veteran originally from the Rhode Island area. Jon is a Station Captain with the U.S. Army Garrison Kwajalein Atoll in support of the Space and Missile Defense Command. Prior to Kwajalein, Jon spent 8 years as a Fire Captain for the Area Support Group Kuwait Fire & Emergency Services Department supporting the U.S. Army Central Command in Kuwait. He was also a Fire Lieutenant at Forward Operating Base Falcon in Southern Baghdad, as well as 3 years working for AMR Seattle. Jon is a certified Fire Officer III, Fire Instructor II, Haz-Mat Tech/IC, holds a Bachelors degree in Fire Administration from Waldorf College and has been an EMT for 17 years. He is currently a Graduate Student at Central Connecticut State University studying Marriage & Family Therapy. Jon enjoys scuba diving, traveling, and watching his 7-year-old son see the world in wonder. Jon is a firm believer in maintaining a healthy balance of pride, tradition, and safety within the fire service.

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