Last week as I walk through the Firehouse Expo in Nashville some things kept coming into my mind. All these people attending to learn and all of these vendors supporting the fire service industry is truly amazing to see.
This was also a couple days before my fire department was having its first big open house for the community. We had an incredible amount of support from our area businesses… donating financially for picnic supplies and through other items such as coffee, doughnuts, hot dogs, etc. That blew me away and there are people that care.
Knowing over 70% of all fire departments in the US are volunteer organizations it’s great to see this support. There are many challenges though. Declining members (and member support/dedication), limited funding (need for fundraising) and lack of community support are just a few but they’re at the top of my list. But these aren’t simple things. Without dedicated members, without funding… terrible responses. Without community support how can a department grow?
We need to demonstrate the value we provide. A day in the life of a volunteer firefighter in a rural department and all the services and value we bring to a community. To really get them to understand what we do.
Structural fire suppression
Wildland fire suppression
Motor vehicle accidents
Search and rescue
Fundraising and grant writing
Social media & website
Community event support
Community, county and town meetings
Board of directors meetings
And I’m sure I forgot a few things.
The people attending, teaching and exhibiting at Firehouse Expo and the dedication from a handful of my department members truly show what it is to be part of the fire service. But how can we gain new, quality members and address these big challenges?
Aside from continuing to push the value to the community, I’m not sure how else to get across this message. Continuing to push will directly impact membership and local support (financial and other). But it’s exhausting. I’m exhausted. But you know something… I will take a day or two to recover and then start again. The fire service is THAT important for me, and to those dedicated like me, to ever stop pushing. Through all the bullshit and struggles it boils down to helping people and providing a service. Not because we’re paid or want acknowledgement but because it matters to us personally and it’s the right thing to do. It’s who we are. And I tell you… if you’re not here for the right reasons you will not last.
We need to communicate our hearts and passions rather than “we need more members, more funding and more support.” Why are we here? Why are YOU here? I am here because I care. I want to be an integral part of my community. I want to help protect it and keep everyone safe. I want to keep our forests intact and thriving. I want to help people learn how to protect their homes and property. That is why I do it. That is why I will continue to read and learn, attend conferences and seminars, and to help my department be the best it can possibly be. To lead the way and be an example to other volunteer departments. It can be done but not overnight. It’s a long-term process with every step being methodical and sustainable for the future. It’s not easy but it’s worth it.
Communicating our hearts and passions will impact memberships and set an example of leadership to others. In the meantime, do the best you can with what you have. Nobody can fault you for that. You are the true heroes of the fire service. You know who you are. Thank you for all you do and what you are.