Being a member of a volunteer fire company in the Philadelphia suburbs often affords me more resources than our rural counterparts or even volunteer fire companies located farther from the city.
It means we have greater resources from which to draw. We are well-equipped and able to replace our fire apparatus, equipment, personal protective equipment, and so on regularly. It also means that the demographics for my area have changed over the years. My fire company, like many around the country—especially in Pennsylvania—is experiencing a decline in volunteerism. https://cdn.jwplayer.com/players/3FyRLZrf-tnSrKeUa.html
When my three boys were little, they had full wardrobes of fire department T-shirts, onesies with dalmatians and fire helmets on them, toy fire trucks—everything. But, I used to tell people that while I thought it would be awesome if they also joined the fire company, I never wanted them to think that I expected them to. All three at one time or another have expressed interest. My 17-year-old doesn’t have the time for it at the moment with his rowing schedule. My 14-year-old has indicated he’s interested, but he’s not sure what he’ll be doing when he’s 16 and what kinds of activities he’ll be involved in and how much of his time they’ll take. And, my 12-year-old has interest, but he’s still a bit young yet to know for sure. Nowadays, I wish I had encouraged them a bit more! Not so much that they felt I’d be disappointed if they didn’t join, but definitely enough that the seed would be further along.
Time—that’s what it all boils down to. When I was a kid, the holiday of holidays was Independence Day. It was the day all the fire trucks in the area would be in one place going right by my house. I’d sit in my 1970s vintage lawn chair on my neighbor’s lawn with my EMERGENCY! helmet on waving to every firefighter I saw. I couldn’t wait to ride the trucks one day. The first training night I ever attended was before I even had gear, but I was allowed to ride our rescue truck up the grounds.
As a line officer, if the first truck had left the firehouse for a minor call but we still had a crew, I did my best to ensure the second truck got out. The members are responding so they can help, not just stand in the back of the firehouse for call attendance credit. If they’ve put in the time for the training, the least we can do is not waste their time when they get to the firehouse.
Time spent training—it’s an issue. The issue isn’t the time it takes. The issue is how much value new firefighters are placing on the classroom training they receive as they work for Firefighter I certification. Firefighters today don’t learn the same way my peers and I did. If we can’t hold their attention in the classroom to ensure they see the value in the instruction they are receiving, it’s going to be hard for them to pass the written tests, and it’s going to be hard for them to maintain their interest.
Back in the day, being allowed to ride the first truck was the goal. The more calls I made, the more classes I went to, and the more extra time I put in, the closer I was to being allowed to ride the first truck. But, it’s not 1993 when the truck rides weren’t as frequent. Maybe the value placed on the truck rides isn’t what it once was. If you miss a call one day, chances are there will be one you can make the next day. If my boys decide to join the ranks, on what will they place the highest value?
We were recently dispatched to a truck on fire in a driveway not far from a house. When I arrived at the firehouse, the first-out pumper had already left. We had a driver, and a rookie came into the firehouse. I asked him if he was allowed to ride any of the trucks yet. He said yes. So, I said, “C’mon. We’re taking the other engine.” The fire wasn’t serious—it was basically out when we got there. I brought the rookie up to the vehicle that they were still hitting with water and left him with the lieutenant to explain what they were doing, why, and so on. Hopefully, the truck ride and explanation were enough to get him to come to the next one, and the next one.