Volunteerism is down across the entire United States. This is not really news to any fire department that relies on volunteers. An article out of eastern Kentucky, states the woes of the region. You can read the article here.
Yes, volunteerism is on the decline. The National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) publishes information on fire volunteers. Their 2012 fact sheet states that volunteerism is down fourteen percent since 1984. The numbers are only current for 2010, but it still shows a decline of six percent from 2009. They also have listed challenges to volunteerism and the factors that contribute to the decline. Multiple mentions of the “me generation” as a contributing factor.
I understand the challenges faced by volunteer firefighters. I have been a firefighter for 18 years, the first eight years I was a volunteer.
The quote from the Appalachian News-Express story that got me thinking was at the end of the article. The speaker mentioned the state fire commission wanting athletes with college degrees.
Let’s start with the “athlete” issue. First, in 2010 50% of all firefighter fatalities were cardiac related. It’s not too hard to see that fire fighting activities require a certain level of fitness. While this level of fitness does not require a person to be a professional athlete, we want to reduce the possibility of a line of duty death (LODD) by having a minimum fitness requirement. Cardiac related LODD is preventable. Let’s try to bring those numbers down.
No volunteer department I am aware of requires a firefighter to have a college degree. In combined and career departments, more Chiefs are requiring their officers and officer candidates to have degrees. I think it is the right move, to bring a little professionalism in to the ranks. Why would anyone not want their officers to be educated, motivated thinkers? I don’t see volunteer departments making this a requirement, but if some one wanted to get a degree, I would only encourage them. It can never hurt to be exposed to educational resources.