Many times I hear you don't just understand how the volunteer fire service works in regards to how fundraising is a higher priority than training.
Funds are necessary for volunteer fire departments to maintain operating status, simply putting paying the bills. But many departments fundraise so much that they still do not have enough money to operate. Fundraising in many volunteer fire department consists of chicken bbq’s, meat raffles, raffles, bingos, dinners and feeds, car washes, cash bashes, gun drawings, etc. Some departments may have weekly to daily fundraisers to raise money to pay for the bills. Some successful volunteer fire departments only have a couple of fundraisers each year that enables them to pay for operating expenses and place funds back for capital expenditures.
Fundraising for too many departments is a way of life that it becomes the norm. People start believing it is the norm so they continue increasing fundraising operations within the departments and fail to see the repercussion of requiring active emergency responders to spend hundreds to thousands of hours each year fundraising. The people who respond on an active basis to perform lifesaving actions and protect millions to billions dollars’ worth of the property each year. The same people who spend hundreds to thousands hours of training to become certified in their trade and to maintain proficiency while improving their knowledge, skill and abilities as an emergency responder. The same members that ensures apparatus and equipment are operationally ready to respond to any emergency incident when someone dials 911. These are just some actions these brave men and women conduct as an emergency responder.
Volunteer fire departments lose potential new members who want to save lives and property when you tell them they must conduct hundreds to thousands of fundraising hours each year on top of attending training, running calls, etc. If a current member does not produce hundreds to thousands a year in fundraising we kick them to the curb even though they respond to many calls for service and attend lots of valuable training, and ensure the department is operationally ready. Many volunteer fire departments want to kick current members to the curb when they cannot show up to a fundraising function due to work, family or medical needs.
Many communities believe having a volunteer fire department that the service is free to the community. A lot of volunteer fire departments have a six digit operating budget to pay for normal operating expenses. These expenses are not cheap. From fuel, utilities, insurance, apparatus repairs and maintenance, equipment maintenance, etc these bills must be paid to keep the department running.
Many departments spend more hours of fundraising in a year than they conduct in hours of training in a year. Let’s think about this. Say a normal fundraising event 5-6 hours, times the number of the events per year, times the number of personnel working each event. This calculates to a lot of hours each year. Now calculate each training in a year, each drill night times the number of personnel, or a member attains outside of the department, calculate that per year. Fundraising hours will be lopsided over training hours.
Do we believe that fundraising is the norm that eventually we will have no one responding to the calls because they spent all their time away from their families at the station doing fundraising events. The end result could mean members getting a divorce if there married, jobless, homeless and broke. Do we really want this to happen to our greatest asset our members? This way of thinking has to change.
How do we change?
Volunteer fire departments need to educate the local community. Gather all information such as budgets, call volume, apparatus, personnel, what your department does and inform the local municipality who is responsible for providing, and protecting the community with fire and emergency services. Inform them of the current conditions, actions of the department and dire needs of the department. If they fail to listen invite the community and the media. Most people will be understanding if they know your operating expenses, and conditions. Though people may want to criticize the operating expenses and may not fully understand how the department has to work to stay in business.
If the local municipality has already taken steps to support the local volunteer fire department then they truly care and value the services it provides. If the local municipality does not support the local volunteer fire department chances are highly likely that the department will close for not having enough sufficient funds or manpower to operate. If the local municipality wants to maintain the volunteer fire department they will find ways to allocate funds to support it. Across the nation volunteers firefighters are diminishing at an alarming rate. Having a community that values the volunteer fire department will enable it to better prepared in meeting mission requirements of the organization.
Until the department acquires the needed funding from the local municipality, departments should have a membership category within the department that solely performs fundraising function that does not actively respond to calls. People who do not respond to calls but want to help the community and the volunteer fire department or personnel who can no longer run fire and emergency services calls due to medical restrictions. Establish a fundraising committee will enable the department to work more efficiently dealing with fundraising. For departments that fundraise there is a lot of activities that need to be done before any event is started. From preparation standpoint it can mean aligning the prizes and getting the prizes, getting tickets made, to getting the food and supplies needed for the event, to ensure the advertising gets done so you get the word out. Many departments have social media pages, websites, every avenue of advertising must be explored to attract the people.
The department must take an active role in risk reduction efforts in the community. From Fire Prevention to addressing the hazards that exist in the community. Enable department personnel to obtain any valuable training to better themselves, the department and the community. Training will improve overall operations of the department. The more training a department obtains the better prepared that the department will be prepared to properly mitigate any emergency when Mrs. Smith dials 911.
Some communities value the ISO or the PPC ratings in reducing the risk in the community. This rating is how well the community is prepared for an emergency including the local fire department. The fire department plays a critical role in this in ensuring emergency services is delivered. Training must be valued within the organization to ensure the mission of the organization succeeds.
The volunteer fire service provides a vital public service to the community and surrounding communities in reducing the risk that exist. Imagine if no one came when you dialed 911. The chances are tremendously growing that this will happen without assistance from the local municipality. Public safety is paramount in any community. Some communities have nice lavishing recreation parks but provide no funding to their volunteer fire and emergency services organization.
We must treat our greatest asset, our people, with a positive environment so that we can retain them and attract new members. Eliminate or decrease the fundraising requirements for members who constantly respond to calls who save lives and property. Training is imperative to ensure members maintain proficiency, gain knowledge, skills and abilities to properly reduce the risk that exists in the community and to correctly perform necessary tasks safely. We must all remember that being a volunteer does not provide a paycheck at the end of the day to feed our families.