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January's magazine editorial cartoon speaks to any department which relies on volunteers or paid-on-call personnel to protect their district. Quality local jobs are dwindling and people have become less interested in helping their communities to concentrate on second careers, soccer games, and a myriad other distractions. In most cases, they no longer work and live in the same community, as was the case just 10 or 15 years ago. What's more, the crop of young replacements are leaving for the promise of brighter futures in larger cities where their service as volunteers is not needed - and who can blame them. It's a very scary situation with no immediate answers. Aggressive recruitment and retention is not enough - if the people aren't there, they aren't there!

The volunteer or combination fire department will not go extinct, but they will look dramatically different in the decades to come. Creative solutions by smart and dedicated people will navigate through this crisis - they always have! Fires will go out, people will be saved, and emergencies responded to - it's just a question of how far you can stretch what you have and how innovative you will be with the future.

How times have changed, eh?  Your thoughts?



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Comment by Art "Chief Reason" Goodrich on January 25, 2011 at 3:32pm

I am of the opinion that communities are not going to vote in favor of anything that is going to cost more than they are currently paying and with all of the bad press on pensions, any position that includes pension is going to be a tough sell.

I'm in favor of pensions; pensions that are employee born with employer contribution and is fully funded.

Also group health insurance for employees that shares cost between employee and employer.

Oh and tax on the pension just like everyone else. There should be NO exceptions. If I pay tax on my retirement benefit, then anyone else should too.

I'll stop there.

Comment by Tim Austin on January 25, 2011 at 2:15pm
Understood, I will have to research the the complexity of these mergers and consolidations. I belong to the Brookings Volunteer fire department in east central South Dakota. We are a 130 year old dept that serves 36,000 and a vast rural coverage area. and a facebook page can give an over view. The fb page is Brookings fire department. I understand the issues surrounding retention, at least in our area, and of course some city budgets cannot support full time firefighters. We are very well equipped, very well trained and very dedicated. We are very proud of our history and of course it takes an incredible amount of time to attend training, calls and meetings. Right now we too are having difficulties in recruiting and retaining quality people, a problem that I fear will only get worse.
Comment by John K. Murphy on January 25, 2011 at 1:38pm

Tim and Art


You are both correct in your comments and impressions related to the current attitude towards a valuable fire service resource - volunteers. In my neck of the woods, with mergers and consolidations of fire departments the active volunteers are placed on the sidelines by a current labor position that volunteer firefighters are a threat to jobs.

Comment by Art "Chief Reason" Goodrich on January 25, 2011 at 1:17pm

Somehow we need to re-establish the volunteer firefighter as a valuable commodity and not a job sucking pariah as we see all too often.


I interpreted it to mean that in some circles, this is the perception of volunteers...taking career jobs, so to speak.

But I could be wrong.


Comment by Tim Austin on January 25, 2011 at 11:29am
For John K Murphy. I found your post somewhat positive and informative but could you please elaborate on the comment 'job sucking pariah'. I would like to know what motivated you to bring forth that particular 'label'. Please remember that there are a heck of alot more volunteers in this country than shift firefighters.
Comment by Tiger Schmittendorf on January 25, 2011 at 10:44am

Just for that Art -

You're buying. Breakfast and lunch, just not on the same day!

Comment by Art "Chief Reason" Goodrich on January 25, 2011 at 9:59am


You are assuming that Tiger will be done with his lunch in time for his presentation.

Don't bet on it.

"Brunch" is not a term used to describe a meal that falls between breakfast and lunch. It is a term devised to describe Tiger's deliberate efforts to finish his breakfast before they start serving lunch. He couldn't do it. Hence; "brunch". Example: Art-"Tiger; let's get some lunch". Tiger-"I haven't finished my breakfast".


Comment by Tiger Schmittendorf on January 25, 2011 at 9:54am

In regards to "The volunteer fire service is in a state of flux and the caché of men and women who graciously and courageously give their time is shrinking;" --- ironicly, we've seen the opposite here in Erie County (

Our current challenge is that we're bringing in so many new recruits (400-500 last year) that we struggle to keep up with their demand and thirst for training. That's on a typical population of 5,000+ volunteers in our county, so we'd like to think that we're at least maitaining safe levels. And of course, we have pockets of our community that range from volunteer dispair to waiting lists.

While I can't think of a better problem to have -- it is a huge challenge. We also realize that the switch could flip in the other direction at any moment. Thus, it requires constant maintenance and re-inventing ourselves and our recruitment efforts.


PS - Love your book. It's prominently positioned on my coffee table and is the only "fire thing" my wife let's me keep in the living room. LOL

Like many other challenges we face -- it's certainly not one that we can leave to chance.


PS2 - Check out our newest statewide recruitment effort at being coordinated by

Comment by Tiger Schmittendorf on January 25, 2011 at 9:39am

You're definitely right about that Paul -

Life as we know it in the fire service in general is being threatened. It's up to all of us to ensure that we don't become extinct.

Here's the cheap plug:

Thursday, March 24, 2011
1:30 PM-3:15 PM -
Room 105-106
Understanding and Motivating Today’s Firefighters
Deputy Fire Coordinator Tiger Schmittendorf, Erie County (NY) Department of Emergency Services
“From the X-Box to the Box Alarm” addresses the challenges of today’s fire service leaders in attracting and retaining the appropriate quantity and quality of firefighters they need to support the delivery of emergency services in their communities.
So, how do we motivate today’s recruits away from the X-Box long enough to answer the box alarm? This facilitated conversation builds consensus that the majority of the challenges we face are in the firehouse, not on the fire scene. Together we’ll learn to combat these challenges with solutions that are right in front of us.
Stay safe. Train often.


Comment by Paul Combs on January 25, 2011 at 9:37am
It's the innocent looking Pandas you have to worry about - I've heard stories.... :)

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