By Carl J. Haddon
We, as rural firefighters, are certainly part of the great fraternal brotherhood that is the American fire service. However, I ask the uncomfortable question: Is your “department” more of a “social club” than it is a fire department?
Volunteer retention and recruitment is a struggle for the best of fire departments. Certain concessions need to be made, or at least considered, to be able to maintain adequate volunteer staffing numbers. Rural departments face different challenges than urban departments, and the challenges of running rural volunteer departments are a whole other “bag of cats,” right? Concessions, in my opinion, are fine when it comes to things that don’t compromise safety and firefighter survival. There are, however, some things that we cannot, or certainly should not, waiver on or make concessions about. At a minimum, two of those things are hiring and training. Training speaks for itself. And even though members are volunteers, they are—or should be—associated with the department through a hiring process.
An alarming number of rural volunteer departments today are hesitant to run criminal background checks, or even driving record checks on potential new members for fear of chasing off prospective volunteers. Additionally, I hear story after story about how difficult it is to get people to training. And, “If we require training more than once a month for a couple of hours, our members threaten to quit.” These statements defy logic to me. I certainly want—and you should want—the firefighters that I’m running calls with to be comfortable that I’m not a convicted felon, or someone with a history of DUI, while I’m behind the wheel of an apparatusen route to a call, don’t you? This is to say nothing of the huge risk and liability exposure to the department/city/county/district as a whole.