Franklin and four friends founded the Union Fire Company on December 7, 1736. There were 26 members of this first brigade. Each member agreed to bring six leather buckets to carry water (1st Engine?) and two stout linen bags (1st Salvage Covers?) to rescue endangered property to every fire upon first being alerted of the emergency. In addition, members had pre-assigned roles;
Water management (Driver Engineer?)
Property protection (Truck Duties?)
Putting lights in neighboring windows to ensure an organized and prompt reaction
The Union Fire Company was immediately popular and they soon had more volunteers than they needed. When they reached 30 members, they refused new volunteers and instead told them to organize a new brigade. The more brigades, the more city could be covered. It worked.. Philadelphia has never had one of those massively destructive fires like the Chicago Fire of 1871.
Since that time and up to now, neighbors, farmers, local merchants, and the general public handled firefighting duties because their communities could not afford a paid firefighting force. If you lived in a big city then there were the necessary larger paid departments.
In the last 20 or so years the number of volunteers in each volunteer department has dwindled or recruitment and retention has become extremely difficult. This has forced fire department leaders to find creative ways to meet their missions while balancing increased demands, diminishing rosters and inadequate funding.
The reasons for the diminishing volunteers are many and include;
These are just a few reasons and each town most certainly has other issues because of demographics.
Many volunteers come to the job with a strong sense of community dedication, but they often burn out. Yesterday’s volunteers learned on the job. Today, they’re required to meet minimum training requirements. It’s a matter of personal safety for the volunteers.
In addition, they’re asked to deal with so much more than a burning building. Today’s volunteer is proficient in first aid, chemical spills, house fires and wildland fires. The bottom line – it’s a lot to ask of a volunteer.
The U.S. Fire Administration has seen the decline since the 1970s. That’s when economic pressures brought a surge in dual income families. Wage earners became hard pressed to find time for work, families and household chores. Volunteer firefighters began leaving. In 2007, The Fire Administration commissioned a study to define the problem and search for a remedy. Lack of time ranked right at the top of the reason why volunteers are falling away. The study’s conclusion: “From a management perspective, there’s not much the organization can do to address this issue.”
Really? That’s the best conclusion they could reach? Wow! And they get paid. Where do I sign up to make these brilliant statements for money?
I was never a volunteer. Okay, I said it. But I have always respected the largest firefighting force in the United States. In 2011, there were 1,100,000 firefighters serving in 30,145 fire departments nationwide and responding to emergencies from 55,400 fire stations. Of those firefighters, 31% or 344,000 were career firefighters and 69% or 756,000 were volunteers – over twice as many volunteers. Somewhere along the way paid departments began calling themselves professionals. I agree with that, but the same people looked down on volunteers as if they were something less. With the required training and certifications and expectations from the citizens they serve, I believe every firefighter in the U.S. is a professional. So the question remains, how do we turn around the decline?
Volunteer chiefs need to refer to their men and women as professionals’ everytime they get a chance, and then say it again. If they say it enough and explain the reasons why, people will begin to believe it. Probably harder is to get with local paid departments and offer to take part in training exercises. This allows more firefighters to be in the training exercise. As the paid firefighters realize the volunteers are just as good as they are, respect should follow.
Physical fitness – In Haines City, there was a physical fitness policy before I got there. And it showed. When we trained with other departments we were always out-performing them and lasting longer because we were in shape. This only helps in building mutual respect.
As I said, I was not a volunteer and do not claim to know all the reasons for the decline in recruits. But as a firefighter, I wanted to be respected and appreciated. I believe that is a great starting point to begin to turn things around. 756,000 firefighters can’t be all wrong, and there has got to be a lot of good ideas out there.
Stay Safe – Everyone Goes Home
Many of you may have recalled an article I wrote earlier last year about the Fire Asylum training. Well some great news has occurred this week, The Fire Asylum Movie was released on Amazon. If you really want to understand more about this unique training, you really should watch the movie!
Fire Asylum Chief Marty Mayes, his crew of instructors, and the students in the class take you on a compelling adventure into The Fire Asylum. You get to see the student’s journey through this unique training as they share personal stories of their lives in and out of the fire service. By the time you finish this documentary, you feel a very personal connection with these students and are truly committed to The Fire Asylum.
The movie is available on for purchase for $9.99 and rent for $4.99 on Amazon. Just click on the movie poster to be directed to purchase. One more awesome thing about this movie is that all proceeds from the movie will go to help pay for students to attend this training or substantially recused the cost of the training. The more people who purchase the low costs there will be for future students!
Below is the movie trailer for the film. Check it out!!
In January of this year, a family of six died in a fire in a relatively new home (built in 2005). Investigation showed it was electrical in nature and a dry Christmas tree contributed to the fast building and spreading fire. All six were determined to have died from smoke inhalation. There were smoke alarms in the house and no indication they did not work. The home was built four years before the county began requiring sprinkler systems in new homes.
In 2011 there were 386,000 residential fires; these caused 3,005 civilian fire deaths, 17,500 civilian fire injuries, and $11.7billion in property damage. And this was an average year. Studies by the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s United States Fire Administration indicate that the installation of residential fire sprinkler systems could have saved thousands of lives; prevented a large portion of those injuries; and eliminated hundreds of millions of dollars in property losses.
To date, there are no reported deaths in any single family residence that has a sprinkler system installed.
National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) study found that homes equipped with smoke alarms and a fire sprinkler system experienced 100-percent fewer civilian fatalities and 57-percent fewer civilian injuries than homes equipped with only smoke alarms.
In a home with sprinklers the average property loss per fire is cut by about 70% (compared to fires where sprinklers are not present). The cost of installing home fire sprinklers averages $1.35 per sprinklered square foot.
The question is, why are residential fire sprinklers not required in all cities, or all states? Opposition starts with home builders associations who complain that the cost is too high (have you priced a house lately, it is all too high), sprinklers are unsightly, they go off accidentally, they cause unnecessary damage when they are activated, and my favorite, there just aren’t that many fires in homes. Tell that to the family of six and all the others who perish because there are too many excuses.
Seven years ago at a statewide fire marshals meeting, the then president of the fire chiefs association stated that in the next legislative session that association was going to lobby the legislature hard for residential sprinklers in all new one and two family homes. The fire marshals never heard anything and seven years later there still is no law.
But it has to start there. The fire chiefs associations (local, state and national) have to push hard for this kind of legislation. The international firefighters should be on board also. The fire marshals associations can push hard for the chiefs to do the right thing, but, it’s still up to the chiefs. If all else fails, each municipality can enact requirements for sprinklers in their city or county, much like Anne Arundel County did, albeit too late for that family of six.
For a list of States with home fire sprinkler requirements;
For a list of States that prohibit Anti-sprinkler legislation:
One more fact. If the fire is out on arrival due to a residential fire sprinkler, how much risk remains for the firefighter?
Stay Safe – Everyone Goes Home
To summarize so far – As part of the National Fire Academy (NFA) Executive Fire Officer Program (EFOP), the student is required to author an Applied Research Project (ARP) within six months of completing each of the four classes. For the executive Leadership class ARP, I sent a survey to 50 metropolitan departments including my own department at the time. I then compiled the results and completed an ARP that culminated in describing the top 10 leadership qualities that my own department and outside fire departments felt were important for their leaders to have. In this, the last installment in the series, the last two qualities are presented.
Be approachable; Listen to both good news and bad news. Be aware of what your body is saying. We all speak with body language, and you don’t have to actually say anything to communicate a message to others. Unfortunately, your body may not always say what you want it to. Approach others. If people aren’t approaching you, why not go to them? Nothing makes you look more outgoing and approachable than actively seeking out people and talking to them. Compliment others. Ask questions. For success, you should be good at making others feel comfortable and important while feeling comfortable yourself.
1. The number one quality identified by other departments, business leaders, and my own department at the time is Integrity. Today if one performs a google search for top leadership qualities, integrity, honesty or being trustworthy are at the top of almost every list.
As a leader, or as a first year firefighter, one should practice honesty and integrity and treat people the way we would want to be treated. People want to do as good as job as possible. We need to supply them with the tools and allow them to perform. As leaders, a climate of trust and participation is much more important today than ever before. Build ownership by building trust. As a leader, you should never shed the cloak of honor, morality and dignity. As a leader, you should hold a profound conviction of duty above all else. By your own actions, not your words, you establish the morale, integrity and sense of justice of your subordinates. You cannot say one thing and do another.
While there are many definitions of leadership that are published each year in hundreds of books, one thing remains certain, we do seem to think that we know leaders when we see them: they are those individuals who, in their inimitable ways, inspire confidence, undermine despair, fight fear, initiate positive and productive actions, light the candles, define the goals, and paint brighter tomorrow’s.
It has been observed over the years that countries, provinces, cities and lesser organizations rise and fall on the strength of their leaders and on the ability with which their leaders carry out the responsibilities of office – seeking first the good of the people. The fire service in general has strong traditions that bind all of us magically together.
Leadership is not for everyone. If you become one or are one, the rewards can be great and the act becomes fulfilling.
Stay Safe – Everyone Goes Home
Roberts, W. (1989). Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun. New York: Warner Books
Hersey, P. Dr. (1984). The Situational Leader. New York: Warner Books
Bennis, W., & Nanus, B. (1986). Leaders: The Strategies for Taking Charge. New York: Harper
Smith, P. (1998). Rules & Tools For Leaders. Garden City Park, New York, US: Avery
Ziglar, Z. (1986). Top Performance. New York: Berkley Books
Maxwell, J. The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader
I recently traveled to Staunton, Virginia to pick up some donated equipment and had the pleasure of meeting Swoope Volunteer Fire Company Chief Kevin Wilkes. Chief Wilkes was fired up to meet us and be able to donate some used equipment to our cause. The more I got to speak with the chief, the more we talked about his department. I have to tell you, his department is quite impressive compared to others in our nation.
Chief Wilkes went on to tell me that out of the past 3 years, his department has only missed 3 calls total and the rest of the calls they have made had an average of 8 firefighters on the rigs. His department is 100% volunteer all the time. These number blew me away. Now, his department doesn’t do EMS transport, but does first respond to EMS calls with BLS & ALS providers.
Now I will say, this isn’t the first time Chief Wilkes has been featured for his department’s incredible success story. He was featured in a story by Station Pride in 2016 as well. You can read that article by clicking here.
We discussed how he was able to make all this possible and had some outstanding ideas.
These are just a few I got from him while we were loading up the used equipment to be donated, but I have to tell you, Chief Wilkes is running an impressive department and is very humble about his tremendous accomplishments.
There are ways to solve this volunteer crisis, but it takes some out of the box thinking and some excellent leadership to accomplish it. The thing to remember is that you have to offer something to these men and women to leave their families and commit time to YOUR department/community. The days of people just volunteering to get out of the house are over, we need to make it a worthwhile venture for both the volunteer and the department. Do what makes sense for your department and community, but the small details sometimes are the best things that will attract those people you want on your department.
Until next time, stay safe and let’s be one another’s keeper.
I have recently read several questions from several different social media sites, and have read 1000s of comments, with this as the question, ” what do you think about firefighters taken selfies at fires and then getting dismissed from the department?”
I’m going to leave you with the following statements and it may get some of your panties in a knot and believe me I’m okay with that.
If we are to look at the stories shared on all media outlets of firefighters loosing their jobs or being booted out of the department, we’d notice one similar thing in each story. There was a fatality involved. The real question here is, is it just because someone died and this photo was taken? Or was it against department policy, SOP/SOG? In most case’s it is never mentioned so we assume that it wasn’t a direct violation of a policy. Yet in some instances it was.
My thoughts on taken selfies and/or photos on any emergency scene are as follows. 1. No matter if we are paid or volunteer we took a oath to serve and protect those in our fire district’s. We are expected to respond to any emergency and try to make someone’s worst moment a little better, to the best of our ability. We are expected to act professional on and off duty, because we have joined a organization that is highly respected. So when you have a urge to post a photo of someone else’s misfortune, ask yourself is this a professional move? 2. When we spend time to take a selfie at a emergency scene we are doing so out of self gratification. We definitely are not doing so out of service to others. When I see a photo of some firefighter that took time to take a selfie at a emergency scene, I automatically think here is someone that is here from them not for the community. Plus a bunch of names for such a person that I won’t write here but there’re not good names. Then I read any text that might be with the photo hoping to read controlled burn, practice or anything to indicate that it wasn’t at a actual emergency call. Must of the time this isn’t the case it’s actually from a emergency scene. Shame on you if you’re one of the many doing this. Very unprofessional in my opinion. 3. The questions I ask someone in person when asked about this subject is this. When did we become the media? When did it become our responsibility to share someone’s worst moment all over social media? Why are we so hell bent on spending more time posting photos of incidents on social media then we are learning about the trade?
The fact is. We have no reason as professionals ( that is what we are) to be publicizing someone else’s misfortunes all over social media. Our job as professional public servants is to respond, take care of the emergency and try to make the folk’s day a bit better. When taken selfies at any emergency scene it is for no other reason in my opinion then self gratification or to be used to get self worth/confirmation or to make us feel better about our own insecurities. So in closing here is my honest opinion. I personally could care one way or the other if you chose to take selfies at a emergency scene. Don’t expect me or others to feel bad for you if you lose your job or get booted out of the department from your own poor choice. Don’t get me wrong here, photo’s of scenes are great. They can be used to study and learn from. We may spot something from a photo that was missed while on scene and so on. So photos are good, it is where and why we share the photos that poses the problem. Let the media do what they do best and share the devastation at someone else’s misfortune. Let us do our job’s and do all we can to help. Like everything else we do we need to ask a couple of questions before posting photos on social media. How will this make me look? Will it do harm to the reputation of my department? If I was in that situation, would I want someone else posting photos of it? Think before you act and you may just save yourself and your department a whole bunch of problems.