Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Firefighting

I would like to talk about something of which I know nothing.

We all know that there are 'volunteer' fire departments. Can someone tell me what this means? Do they get paid? If not, why do volunteer firefighters exist at all--why don't they just get jobs with a city or county fire department?

Where do they get their fire trucks? Through fundraising? If so, they have the meanest bake sales in all the land.

What is the dynamic between volunteer and professional firefighters? Do they get along?

Does this confuse anyone else? Does anyone know these answers?

6 comments:

Randow said...

Brian,
I could be totally wrong (as is the case most times) but I believe volunteer firefighters are comparable to the army reserves. Where as they are not full time firefighters and usually have another occupation. They are often compensated for their time while fighting fires and training. I believe most funds come from the local governments and through fundraising. Harford County doesn't even have a paid firefighting staff. They rely only on volunteers. I'm sure some of the smaller counties are the same.

Brian Gill said...

Interesting.

Mark Newgent said...

As the son of a retired paid PG County Firefghter all I can say is that this question can stir up a hornet's nest. At least in PG County there have been serious issues between the paid men and the volunteers. I'm talking serious issues dealing with service to county residents.

Unions also play a role as well. Ask yourself why there are no volunteer units in Baltimore City.

I'll ask my old man to send me a summary of what happened during his tenure.

Bob C. said...

Brian,

In Anne Arundel County there are both career and volunteer firefighters. The five largets local jurisdictions typicall have all career or a combination department like AACO. Most volunteer fire stations are owned by the corporations estabilshed by the volunteers. There are career firefighters at all fire stations in Anne Arundel County 24 hrs a day, seven days a week. The volunteers typically assist when they are away from their regular jobs and weekends and evenings. They recieve their training through the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute, and the Maryland Institute on Emergency Medical Services, both at College Park campus of the University of Maryland. It typically takes 4-6 moths to recieve the minimum training required to ride the emergency apparatus. The volunteer firefighters are rewarded with a pension through the state after twenty years of service typicall around $310.00 a month and recieve over $3000.00 in tax exemptions on their state taxes annually.
Most volunteer stations typically own some of the equipment in their stations, and the local government places equipment in the stations as well. Volunteer firestations typically raise money through fundraising event, such as oyster roastsm bull roasts, bingo and grants through state and federal agencies.

There has in the past been personality conflicts between career and volunteer firfighters, but the majority of those incidents are no longer an issue as chain of command has good control of these incidents. They still happen on an occasion, but not on the level of 30 years ago. Most career firefighters have been volunteer firefighter at some point in their lives. Most jurisdictions use the volunteers as a employment pool for recruiting new career firefighters. I hope this helps...

Bob C.

Brian Gill said...

Very helpful. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Brian as an Annapolis city firefighter I will try to explain Annapolis' career/volunteer firefighters. Way back when the city was first being developed in colonial days the town had volunteers for the bucket brigade which was there way of controlling fires. As time went on these brigades developed into companies which were usually separated by jurisdictions, back then they were probably neighborhoods. These companies raised money to protect there areas and also started charging for fire insurance or protection. There were battles sometimes to get there first so that station could collect the money.

In some rural areas such as the eastern shore all volunteer fire service still exists. In larger counties and cities they have provided service (police and fire) from the citizen’s taxes. In a lot of counties on the eastern shore if you investigate you will see they pay more property and or a higher county tax and get no fire service. To me its bad business, by there local government. But there volunteer departments have grown political and are obviously made up of the local citizens and there friends. So they sacrifice service because they feel a sense of pride doing themselves and I guess are willing to pay the taxes and provide somewhat of a service for free. In Anne Arundel County they have career county employees staffing equipment 24 hours a day supplemented by volunteers. This seems to work OK but still limits the service. Some stations are all career and are fully staffed. Some are combination stations and are staffed 24 hours a day by career employees but are staffed at or below minimum recommendations and the volunteers are supposed to make up the difference. The problem is with the work ethic in today’s society compared to 20 and 30 years ago. You used to work right in town or just down the street. When there was an emergency your employer usually had no problems with you leaving and getting on the fire truck because they knew if it were there house or business the same would happen. Today’s society works so much we barely leave for vacation and when there is an emergency there are very limited numbers of volunteers during daytime hours.

In come the career positions. In Annapolis all equipment is staffed at minimum recommended staffing 24 hours a day 365 days a year. This is paid for by the taxes you pay the city of Annapolis. We are professional and provide a great service to our citizens. Most of us love our job and a lot did volunteer actively before we got hired to get our training. Some still do who live in areas such as the eastern shore where there is no other protection.


The volunteer stations in Annapolis or pretty much ridiculous. There are no members that supplement service or are active in our day to day operation. The closest thing to that is one who has kind of become our historian/ photographer. They do raise money for equipment by doing mail out letters (this is done by the Eastport station only) and a lot of citizens who don’t understand mail them in checks. So they essentially are paying for something they are already taxed for. This does help a little because they do buy equipment for the station. The problem is these so called volunteers are all members left over from the 50’s to the 70’s. Hence the youngest one is probably over 65 and has no clue about the fire service of today. Also there is no checks and balances on this money!!!!! As far as we know it is funding there retirement. When they decide to spend some they ask what is needed but ultimately they do what they want and when they want. No one knows how much money the citizens have even donated. These are a handful of members one maybe two being in control of all of these donations. This money is significant. Eastport just purchased a fire engine for around $300,000.00 so they had at least that amount that no one but them accounts for and they collect in the name of Eastport volunteer fire department which most people acquaint with the City of Annapolis. So you ask what is a volunteer firefighter. In Annapolis it is an old person collecting your money and who knows what they are doing with it!