Volunteer firefighters: Real American heroes
So you’re young and healthy, live on the San Juan Ridge and just got home from work. Since it’s a warm day in early summer, seems like a good time to kick back and relax from the labors of the day.
Sorry, but it’s Wednesday, and you’ve made a commitment to your community. You see, you are a volunteer firefighter for the North San Juan Fire Department, and Wednesday is training night. Every Wednesday night except for holidays. For as long as you can take it and are willing to serve.
As members of the public, many of us assume that the heroes among us, including all who keep us safe, but particularly the volunteer firefighters, fulfill their commitment to us simply by showing up when we need them, but nothing could be further from the truth.
The time spent putting out fires and providing emergency medical services is the least of it. Though requirements vary from department to department, volunteer firefighters are expected to be as well-trained as their paid counterparts in almost every way.
In the case of North San Juan volunteers, there are 11 distinct training certifications required: basic training, CPR, first aid, hazardous materials, wildland firefighting, confined spaces, SIDS, blood-borne pathogens, incident command system, national incident management system and defibrillator use.
In addition, there are four requirements having to do with personal health and abilities: Hepatitis B vaccination or waiver, a TB test, an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) respiratory capabilities test and a test of the fit of the self-contained breathing apparatus.
There are also volumes of policies and procedures to become familiar with and OSHA requirements for safety in the workplace.
Is it more difficult to recruit volunteers than in times past? Of course. Demands on our time are legion, and the requirements of the job are onerous.
Is it more difficult for officers and staff of Fire Departments and Fire Prevention Districts to provide the training and other resources required to meet community needs and expectations? Sure. But it’s not impossible. It just takes good people, hard work and dedication.
Given all this, why in the world do volunteer firefighters exist? Why even in this day and age are over 800,000 of the roughly 1.1 million firefighters in the United States volunteers?
It’s really pretty simple. It’s what people do. We help our neighbors. We recognize that along with the rights we enjoy in this country comes a responsibility to be good citizens.
We also recognize that in the case of many small fire districts and communities, there is no way that adequate fire protection and emergency medical services could be affordable other than on a volunteer basis.
What do volunteers get out of it? First, they get the huge personal satisfaction out of doing a worthwhile job that must be done.
It’s up to you to provide the only other thing they really want: Never pass up a chance to shake a firefighter’s hand, look him or her in the eye, and say, “Thank you.”
Here it is, the second week of May, and the grass in my meadow is already brown, following a second straight year of well below average rainfall.
Please provide as much defensible space as you can around your home, and for the love of God, and for the sake of your loved ones and volunteers who would put themselves in harm’s way for you, please be careful with fire during the upcoming hot times. This fire season looks like it’s going to be a doozie.
Ed Beckenbach serves on the NSJ Fire Protection District board.
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