Guest Commentary: Being a volunteer firefighter take courage, commitment
By: Mark Schlangen, Two Harbors Fire Department, Lake County News Chronicle
This past year the Two Harbors Fire Department put forth more than 4,000 personnel hours towards responding to calls, training, and community events. This does not include administrative hours that were put into the organization of the department’s activities.
A 2007 study by Independentsector.org assigns a value of $20.25 per volunteer hour. This translates into roughly $81,000 of services provided. This makes a nice soundbite and could be used to validate government expenditure for running a fire department.
However, when you speak to somebody that has been affected by an emergency to which the department has responded, it is no longer easy to put a dollar amount on the service provided. As a society we often are trying to quantify services by assigning a dollar value. The problem is, when it is your emergency that the department is responding to, the value of the service provided suddenly increases and dollar signs tend to lose their meaning.
The reality is the residents of Lake County are fortunate to have individuals that serve as volunteer firefighters and first responders. When an emergency arises, it is a small group of dedicated individuals that respond. Regardless of how many emergency calls there are, these individuals consistently train and keep their skills sharp. This is truly the best demonstration of the commitment of a volunteer responder. To spend countless hours training for an event that may or may not happen while they are around, is a testament of the dedication these individuals have for our communities. Attempting to simplify this by assigning a dollar value will lead to a misunderstanding of the real value.
The emergency service is only as strong as the ability of the volunteers to respond. This is a factor that sets volunteer emergency personnel apart from other organizations. Imagine that you serve for an organization, but the time that you will be needed to serve is unknown. Members must wear a pager that will notify them and they must be ready to take appropriate actions within minutes. No matter the time of day or night, you may be in mid-sentence (or deep sleep!) and be expected to respond. This might give a glimpse of what it is like to wear a pager for an emergency service.
The impact on providing a volunteer emergency service goes far beyond the individual. To be an effective volunteer, the member needs to have an extremely supportive and understanding family. Family members are always impacted when the responder leaves for an emergency call. Someone is always left to keep the family going and this can be a very difficult position. Employers are also impacted when supporting a volunteer responder. Lake County is fortunate to have many great employers that recognize the value of releasing a volunteer from work to respond to an emergency. Some of our responders are self-employed, when they respond they know that they are effectively closing their business while on a call. Great sacrifices are made by all to provide emergency services. The impact of an emergency is huge and has a ripple effect on many people beyond the actual responder.
At this point, the thought of joining a volunteer emergency service might not sound very appealing. Before it is discounted as something that “someone else should do,” look at the benefits. When the pager does go off due to an emergency, somebody is having a bad day and you have the opportunity to try to make it better. The person requesting the assistance doesn’t have a choice as to who will come to their aid. They dialed 911 and will get the local emergency responders. This is a huge responsibility and with it can come with great rewards. To leave this responsibility for “someone else” to do of course the easiest option, but this would leave us without a functional response to an emergency. It is this service above self that drives most volunteers, and this is pretty hard to place a dollar value on.
The Lake County area is fortunate to have various emergency volunteer organizations. The Lake County Rescue Squad serves under the Sheriff’s Office, and each city has a volunteer fire department. In addition, the area is served by an ambulance service based out of Two Harbors and Silver Bay. All of the organizations work together with the common goal of providing the best service possible with the resources available. The most important resource available to these organizations are the dedicated volunteers that not only respond to the emergency calls, but continually train for a wide variety of events.
One of these organizations, the Two Harbors Fire Department is actively seeking individuals that are interested in serving on the volunteer fire department. Interviews and testing will take place in March for a hiring pool that can be drawn upon as openings on the department occur.
There are a few objective requirements to be on the fire department such as being at least 18 years old and residing within eight minutes from the fire hall. However, the subjective requirements are ones the applicant needs to assess such as family support, employer support, and personal commitment. The latter is much more difficult to assess, but with good communication it will become apparent if the fire department is a viable option.
Being a volunteer firefighter is not for everyone, those that are willing to serve in this capacity should be commended. If you are interested in serving as a volunteer firefighter for the Two Harbors Fire Department, please fill out an application at City Hall, 522 First Avenue. If you are interested in serving other volunteer emergency organizations please contact them for more information.