Help wanted: More than a few good part-time volunteer firefighters

  • Article by: Kevin Giles , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 7, 2013 - 9:52 AM

Cities across state struggle with shortages. Commuting, unpredictable on-call schedule at blame, chiefs say.

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rogue37Aug. 6, 1310:31 PM

It used to be you to be a firefighter you fought fires. Now it is about medicals. Maybe they need to separate the two. Have full time emts and part time volunteer firefighters who just fight fires.

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lolorocksAug. 6, 1310:58 PM

Cities across state struggle with shortages. Commuting, unpredictable on-call schedule at blame, chiefs say. Maybe getting paid $10 for an hour long unit call is the problem. You wouldn't get me to hold a hose let alone rush into a burning building for that poultry sum. Better yet how about the city in Arizona who is denying those smoke jumpers surviving family members benefits. Im all for civic duty but my bills don't paid and my family can't eat on volunteering for anything.

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Don't Feed the Greed GuyAug. 6, 1311:05 PM

I'm a preacher/firefighter who has served in three MN communities: in a metro fd where we put in 1,000+ calls a year (I averaged 500 calls/yr), then in a community of 10,000 where the calls dropped to 200/yr. Now I serve in a small town, pop. 1,500 as the training officer. We may make 50 calls in a year, but the complexity of an interior fire attack--wearing SCBA and entering a burning building, or performing an automobile extrication--the complexity requires the same level of training and expertise. Car accidents and house fires are very democratic--they occur in every zip code. Our small departments are at a real disadvantage here, even more than the elite suburban organizations--primarily because we just don't see enough fire, and lack the few paid firefighters who bring their knowledge to the fire scene. The pressure from family, and employers (yes, even the church) to focus just on home and the pledging members of a congregation--the good Christians--is real. Read "Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of Community" by Robert Putnam. This is a civil crisis.

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basia2186Aug. 6, 1311:38 PM

I live in a small township in N.E. MN. We PAY more than 10/hr and have an incredible pension plan. Most of the calls (80%) are for medical reasons. Most of the volunteers (90%) refuse to become even a first responder. They do have state of the art fire boats (2), fire trucks suitable for a big city, and a township formed only to support the fire department that rarely sees a fire. There must be major consolidations of these tiny, expensive, private clubs. Ours is mainly an expensive social organization. We are one volunteer above being forced to dissolve as per state guidelines. All volunteers should be required to obtain at least a first responder certification.

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dwp4401Aug. 7, 13 3:54 AM

The Twin City Metro area has well over 100 fire departments. Has anyone give thought to whether that number is really necessary? It seems obvious to this reader that consolidation is the best way for these cities to provide services. It happening in many areas of the country and has been shown to cost less while improving quality and access.

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RandallwwAug. 7, 13 6:10 AM

I was on a SE metro communities Volunteer FD. The medical calls were a huge pain. The people that took advantage of the medical system were a huge problem. Also the people who had the flu for 3 days but decide to call for an ambulance at 3 am....really? My suggestion....County Fire and Ambulance..full time medics and firefighters. I know cities attract businesses with insurance ratings. But why have 4 buildings full of brand new equipment and not enough people to even respond and use it? Mutual Aide is becoming the norm so why not have the whole county involved?

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Willy53Aug. 7, 13 7:00 AM

I question dwp41's assumption. Response time is the number one question when locating fire departments and consolidation doesn't help that in a metro area clogged with traffic after years of transportation spending cuts. I've met Stillwater Fire Chief Glazer and he is thoughtful and listens to the community. Stillwater is currently planning on moving their existing fire department location away from downtown Stillwater, up to the middle of the newer residential part of town, closer to the township. It will be expensive. They are partnering with the National Gaurd which means they must meet the more luxurious federal standards set for federal buildings. The entire idea of this partnership is preposterous and many other expensive add ons are being considered, driving up the price of the firestation. Chief Glazer has problems with manpower, unfortunately, the council and mayor have once again made a horrendously bad budgetary decision for the city that will mean more taxes to support the construction and even worse, extended response times to fight fires in the historic downtown. Perhaps remodelling the existing station in order to afford more firefighters would be a better approach for the department and taxpayers. With the retirement of Council member Micky Cook, the Council watchdog for taxpayers no longer exists to vet these irresponsible council building proposals. Hire the firefighters and nix the new fire hall location.

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circleoflifeAug. 7, 13 7:10 AM

Cities need to put as much if not more emphasis in sustaining a good level of fire fighters and police officers as they do teachers.

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honeybooAug. 7, 13 7:27 AM

Firefighting is a relic of the 20th century when fires were common and there were no fire codes. Firefighters today should be entirely voluntary (no AFSCME pension). Emergency response is a different story. They shouldn't be showing up to car wrecks in 5-ton fire trucks. They are needed daily - different skillset, different equipment, many more calls. We need to adapt to reality.

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mrblueskyAug. 7, 13 7:35 AM

I had to retire from a local volunteer/paid on calls because of health reasons. I loved the feeling of helping the community in a way that I enjoyed. We are a small town of 200 and see about 300 calls per year. Maybe 4 of them are actual structure fires. Yet we train and train and train for structure fires. It is tough. We quit running an ambulance, that took away another 300 calls per year. We just couldn't staff an ambulance that went out sometimes 4 or 5 times in one day. It wasn't worth the money and getting off of work that many times was tough. Our Rescue truck responds to all heart calls and Allina now takes all medical calls. It is tough keeping 30 active volunteers in the ranks these days. I think getting the volunteers needs to start in the local schools at a young age. Have your volunteers bring the fire trucks to school and talk to the kids during Fire Safety Week. We sent the same firefighters each year and they would be recognized in the stores and everywhere else in town by the kids. We stage a mock accident at the High School yearly. Bring in Allina or North Air. Then these kids that stay in town after graduating are interested in helping on the FD. The town next to us has a pop of about 1500. They have a waiting list for people wanting to get on the fire department! They do run and ambulance and do about 600 calls per year! That departments attraction is TRADITION. Not just anyone can get on the department. That makes it an honor to serve if you do get on. It is also crucial to have a great fire chief, like we have and they have. There are ways to keep a small town department full and effective.

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