Volunteer Firefighting is declining at an alarming pace and there are many reasons associated with this worrisome trend. It is imperative to not only study those cause but also devise practical means of resolving the problems of recruitment and retention. This paper, therefore, discusses the major reasons and the consequential recommendations as to improving volunteer firefighter numbers.
The need for an active firefighting force in itself is inherently important for large scale disaster management. Disaster management is a field that always calls for improvement in today's world as lives are vulnerable to hazards almost every day. And needless to say that firefighting in particular, is a venerable trade that deserves to have more investment in terms of physical as well as human capital. The need to augment the value of firefighting as a profession is ever prevalent, not only because of the exalted nature of the job itself, but also because effective disaster management through volunteers is unfortunately declining. Volunteer firefighting has most certainly been an integral part of the fire department for many years and plenty of historic accounts show how volunteer firefighters have saved many days! So it is safe to say that the consequential effort of volunteers has been all too apparent. But it is important to note the recent downward and frankly appalling trend of volunteer firefighting and seek pragmatic resolutions to raise the volunteers' numbers.
It is first and foremost, imperative to track down the major cause as to why volunteer services are declining in order to seek practical solutions. One primary reason as to why people do not volunteer in firefighting nowadays is simply because they do not have enough time; the nature of everyone's life is defined by a rapid pace combined with a plethora of personal endeavors waiting to be accomplished. In such a fast-paced life, it is difficult to have the time to prioritize volunteer firefighting (or any other volunteer service for that matter) over all the other things on one's platter. Also volunteers now, require more training and learning before they can participate in any such activity; this makes for a rigorous period of preparation which naturally leaves no room for any amount of error. This can be yet another reason why people do not want to take the risk of trying out a job which requires such magnanimous responsibility out of them. Moving on, most fire departments nowadays are legislatively required to create extensive documentation and complex decrees for volunteering personnel. The myriads of red tape procedures involved in the fire department make it ever necessary for the aspiring volunteer to second guess his or her decisions, for this entails much greater commitment and equally great liability on his or her part. Also, the time that it takes to pass academic tests as well as health related tests is too much for a person to devote out of their personal lives. It only adds to the risk associated with volunteer firefighting by calling for great efficacy and cuffing the volunteer with the burden of extensive documentation and burdensome legal responsibility. (Bartel, 1998)
According to Christopher K. Switala, another major reason for declining voluntary firefighters is a moribund lack of leadership. He proposes that inefficient management can lead to a declining sense of morale in firefighters, which in turn is reflected in the decreasing number of volunteers. And ultimately the greatest element which can boost volunteer numbers is a robust incentive to abet a cause: a personal motivating factor such as a handsome amount of money or credible recommendation can go a long way in making the personnel feel appreciated, so if the firefighter's personal needs are largely overlooked that is simply not a good enough reason for him or her to pursue this occupation any further. Switala goes further by saying that there is a tremendous generational gap when it comes to people's attitudes towards civic duty: the youth may not relate to such causes the way older people have been raised to, and this needs to change through active campaigning and investment in marketing the cause. People need to be made to realize their inner sense of civic obligation and encouraged to act upon their giving instinct. Perhaps another very significant cause of declining volunteers is what is commonly referred to as 'Volunteer Burnout.' Volunteer Burnout is the condition whereby it is believed that firefighting demands much sacrifice from one's personal life; personal lives are believed to be largely compromised in this particular career and consequentially the supply of volunteer firefighters tends to decrease relative to the demand. (Switala, 2006)
The reasons may spread far and wide but the effects are more or less the same. Declining numbers of volunteer firefighters leads to a lackluster response in the face of emergencies, which is of course the greatest cost of this issue. Furthermore, not living up to the national standards attached to the fire services leads to declining communal expectations. Volunteer staff management deteriorates and resultantly the whole experience becomes less than rewarding for any volunteer firefighter, thereby decreasing the possibility of future participation. According to the National Volunteer Fire Council, there is great difficulty in recruiting as well as retaining volunteer firefighters. The fewer the volunteers, the greater the probability of existing firefighters having to work more and therefore experiencing volunteer burnout. This obviously results in those workers relinquishing their job due to mounting workload. As a matter of fact, statistical reports bear witness that, "79% of the responding VFCs reported problems with recruiting, 51% reported active membership declines in the prior decade, and 37% reported no growth in membership over the prior decade." (D'Intino, 2006) It is hence evident that this predicament calls for immediate action to try and enhance the volunteer firefighting experience so that fire departments can be run more smoothly and of course lives can be saved more efficiently.
It would be a grand anomaly to disregard the afore-mentioned trends. Thus, it is ever necessary to identify the predicaments of fire departments and resolve such issues as soon as possible. We need to look into the causes of this rapid and alarming decline and offer credible and feasible ways to counter the void in fire services. The degree of satisfaction needs to be amped up immediately, be it in terms of the working environment or employee encouragement. According to the very comprehensive report by McLennan, Birch, Cowlishaw and Hayes, titled 'Maintaining Volunteer Firefighter Numbers: Adding Value to the Retention Coin' the declining trend of volunteering behavior has been credited to some succinct categories. The first category is basic dissatisfaction with the job, the second is associated with ever prevalent health concerns, the third revolves around family commitments and the forth rests on migration or conversion to other professions. (McLennan, Birch, Cowlishaw, & Hayes, 2009)
Therefore, what we need to do under all circumstances is take these raging bulls by the horn and tackle the quandary once and for all. First and foremost, fire departments should add value to this job. The creation of an encouraging environment which offers ample monetary incentives to the volunteer as well as raise his or her perception of civic duty can go miles in recruiting and retaining volunteer firefighters. Various volunteering institutions, both governmental and non-governmental, must join hands in investing in fire departments so that provision of material incentives is realized. The community itself should be ever ready to contribute to the fire service departments so that the sense of public appreciation towards this job is enhanced. Such abstract and concrete returns will gauge better turnout in the future and resolve the problem of declining volunteer firefighters once and for all. (Graff, 2009)
Intergenerational variance in views ought to be altered through extensive campaigning, so that the job gets the respect that it truly deserves. Transactional leadership, Servant leadership and Transformational leadership must be ascertained so that a firefighter's career is infused with professionalism and longevity. Transactional leadership is "the quid pro quo" method of assuring professionalism that is a leadership whereby the leader is directly rewarding towards one's efforts. Servant leadership is borne out of a person who was originally a follower getting an authoritative position, which in turns helps one understand the employees' circumstances better. Transformational leadership, on the other hand, is the leadership whereby the leader adopts the employee's personal motives in order to help him achieve his personal goals. (Fisher & Maxfield, 2012) Furthermore the education and training required for volunteering in fire services must be streamlined and the legal documentation involved in the process must also be minimized. This will eliminate the formality associated with going through a number of legal steps, and hence people will weigh the value of the work more than the liability associated with the work. Institutions may argue that this is easier said than done but training can still be made much easier to acquire if offered on grass root levels such as through a course in high school. Local authorities…