“What took you so long?” That’s a question that volunteer fire departments may hear when they arrive on scene. Part of it is due to what the public sees on TV where most fire departments are depicted as being staffed 24/7 with full-time personnel. That’s the way it is in the big city, but not small-town America. I’m amazed at the number of people with whom I’ve had personal contact with that believe it as well.
About 70% of America’s firefighters are volunteers, and 85% of the nation’s fire departments are all or mostly volunteer, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). So, you can see that communities like Columbus and Fall River are in the majority when it comes to fire department configuration.
Larger cities with higher populations, higher call volumes, and larger budgets are where you will find fully-paid and fully-staffed fire departments.
Here in Columbus, we have room for 40 members on our roster. As chief, I am salaried at half-time (20 hours/week). But I’m here to talk about the other 39 members.
They are paid-on-call by the hour. They all have their own jobs outside the fire department. When paged, they respond from work, from home, or wherever they maybe. It takes time for them to drive to the fire station, get their gear on, get on a truck and respond to the scene. If during the night, add time for them to get dressed at home.
Individuals have been with our department ranging from five months to 45 years. They are male and female, millennials to baby-boomers, white collar-workers and blue-collar workers. But they all have one thing in common. They are all dedicated individuals who want to serve their community and help those in need.
How many people do you know that are willing to wake up in the middle of the night, leave their warm beds and homes, and venture out to help others on a regular basis? They respond when it’s 20 degrees below zero of 95 in the shade. Rain, snow, or wind does not make a difference.
As I mentioned, at times our firefighters leave their work to respond. It’s with our gratitude that employers allow our firefighters to leave when needed. The two local employers with the most of our firefighters employed are Lyco Manufacturing and Enerpac, each with four.
Many hours of training are expected of the firefighters. This also takes away from their time at home with family.
When someone is in need of help in an emergency, it always seems like it takes forever for help to arrive. That’s a natural feeling. Just remember that it takes time for volunteer firefighters to drop what they are doing, drive to the fire station, get their gear on, and proceed to the scene. Instead of “What took you so long?” how about “Thanks for coming.”
Randy Koehn serves as Columbus fire chief. He writes a monthly column for the Columbus Journal.
Catch the latest in Opinion
Get opinion pieces, letters and editorials sent directly to your inbox weekly!