This week, one of our local new stations ran a story about emergency services response times. The results varied greatly from department to department, rural versus urban, volunteer versus paid. But the story only touched the tip of the iceberg.
Not all emergency services are staffed by paid employees. Many rely on volunteers to respond when an emergency arises. While the paid departments and staffed ambulances have quick response times, the volunteer agencies times are much longer.
Paid organizations are staffed 24/7 and are able to respond as soon as they are activated for a call. Volunteer organizations must wait until a crew arrives at the station. This causes an immediate difference in response times. And as the investigative reporter stated, the longer the response time, the more chance of an unfavorable outcome.
While the response times may differ between a professional and a volunteer fire department, the training requirements are not that different. Pennsylvania requires volunteer fire fighters to complete an essentials program, a nearly 100 hour training course. As with most professions, training is never complete. There are intermediate, advanced, and specialized training courses in firefighting, rescue, command, and other emergency services skills. All these classes require time and dedication.
For detailed information on the requirements faced by Pennsylvania firefighters, check out their website: http://www.osfc.state.pa.us/.
Locally, many of our emergency services and fire departments are suffering from lack of volunteers. Time constraints, family obligations, and increasing training also come into play. Without proper training, volunteers cannot participate in the calls. Lack of membership places a burden on those who volunteer. The dwindling numbers mean less availability to respond. And there are many obstacles to overcome before a department can crew for a call. Time of day, availability of responders, location of the emergency, and necessary training.
Emergency services face the same issues as any other business. Time, training, and money. Departments are forced to do more with less. To make up for the lack of money available, departments are forced to conduct fundraisers. One frequent fundraisers is boot day. Firefighters and emergency responders in gear stand in the street and solicit donations from passing cars. While most people will toss in some change, this isn’t nearly enough to run a department. Other creative ways to make money need to be undertaken―carnivals, raffles, direct mailings, hall rental, and bingo.
The money raised is used to augment the stipend they receive from their communities for their operating budget. Equipment needs to be maintained regularly. Diesel fuel costs more than gasoline. Fire engines are expensive and don’t last forever.
When that whistle goes off, the men and women, paid and volunteer, put their lives on the line. When they walk out that door, they are leaving their family to help another, many times someone that they don’t even know. If you ask them why they do it, the responses vary, but they all have one thing in common, they want to make a difference.
Next time you hear that whistle, think of the men and women who put their lives at risk. When you see them, thank them. They don’t it for money, fame, or recognition, they volunteer to make a difference.
If you are interested in volunteering, contact your local fire department. They would be happy to have you.