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Money Won’t Solve Every Problem
2018-05-17

            As municipalities wrestle with what to do to help stimulate volunteerism in local fire companies and volunteer emergency medical services, they are taking a local approach.  After all, it is each municipality's responsibility to provide fire protection for their residents.

            Commonwealth elected officials passed Act 172 not too long ago, designed to provide property tax relief, at the municipality's discretion, for volunteers.  Not a lot of money, just the possibility of a few hundred dollars as a way of saying "thanks" and perhaps enticing new volunteers to join up.

            With the issue of a volunteer living in one municipality and volunteering with an organization in another municipality, safeguards need to be implemented so that the cross-boundary service providers are rewarded properly.

            Some municipalities are thinking about a "stipend" for volunteers; some already provide such.  Not much, just a few hundred dollars to say "thanks."

            The people who volunteer today do so because they chose to help their community in this service.  They provide a service that few choose to do – and they do it for donations to their fire company to help keep their equipment in service, fuel in the trucks, and insurance for their protection.

            People need to focus on the primary reason for Act 172 and/or the stipends. 

            Rewarding those who voluntarily serve the public in a dangerous, personally expensive, and time-consuming service is appreciated but not necessary. 

            Don't believe me?  Ask them.

            The real need is to entice new members to join.  Will $100, $200, $500 be enough to draw new members.  Probably not.

            As soon as a new prospect comes forward, most run the other way when they find out that they have to complete 170 hours or more of training just to volunteer. They flinch when they learn of the hundreds more hours of training needed to upgrade or maintain their skills and certifications.

            Eligibility for federal and state grants to help maintain your fire company, as well as the cost of insurance rates, are just a few of the things determined by the qualifications and certifications of your volunteers. 

            There was a time when qualified and certified instructors provided training for volunteers in a time period that allowed the volunteer to obtain the needed training without severely impacting his or her job and personal life.

            What is now a 170 hour, up-front, all over a three or four week period, training session was once three 48-hour sessions spread out over a year.  It was a little easier to handle that type of schedule.  Why aren't State and County officials looking into addressing scheduling hardships as a way to help encourage new volunteers? 

            Certifications are needed before you can become qualified to be a volunteer firefighter – that's a given.  Training for certification should be hard and tough, but also "schedule-friendly" to help bring volunteers to the table and keep them there, without diminishing the quality of service they will provide. 

            If you really want to encourage new volunteers to enter the volunteer fire service, make it a little less onerous to become one.

            Money won't solve every problem.


 

 

 

 

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