Where There’s Smoke...
On June 23rd I had the great pleasure, as Chairman of the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) along with Kevin Quinn, the 1st Vice Chairman of the NVFC to meet and have breakfast with International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) General President Ed Kelly and his chief of staff Matt Vinci in Washington, DC. It is no secret that there have been tensions for decades between the volunteer and paid fire services in this country although I have never completely understood why. There are several observations I would make in this regard.
1) Volunteers and career fire service personnel die in the same ways and in relatively similar proportions. This means that the issues that have to be addressed to keep firefighters alive have no distinction between volunteer and career firefighters.
2) Were it not for many career firefighters (most of whom are IAFF members) living in small towns in Kansas and across the nation, the fire service in many of these smaller communities would be impacted negatively. What I mean by that is that many career firefighters volunteer their time in the communities they live in that have volunteer fire departments. The experience of these career firefighters is invaluable to our smaller communities. They enhance fire protection in those towns in so many ways.
3) There are communities in the United States that have tried to provide “cheap” fire service by refusing to recognize the need for career personnel. Call volumes in many places have gone up exponentially - often due to EMS services - to the extent that they need to be hiring paid personnel.
4) In many communities across Kansas and the nation there will never be the need for career staff - it will always be volunteer, due to the low call volume and lack of tax base.
5) Volunteers can be every bit as professional as those that are paid. In many places, because of the lack of enough paid staffing, some volunteer fire departments can actually show up with more firefighters than in some career departments. That’s not a slight on either, it is reality.
With these foundational principles in mind, there are so many reasons that the career and volunteer sides of the house need to cooperate. There are so many financial reasons for us to be on the same page, and, more importantly, our cooperation can have a direct impact on firefighters staying alive. Both the career and the volunteer sides of the house are working hard on trying to stop cancer, we are working on roadway safety, we are addressing all sorts of mental health issues unique to the fire service, and this list could go on and on. Working together will be beneficial for ALL firefighters - we battle the same battles, we fight the same enemies, we die and get injured in the same ways - TOGETHER we can accomplish much for the fire service, because where there’s smoke...