Volunteer Vision: Time to raise the game for the volunteer
By Tom DeSorcy
Volunteers of the world, the time has come to raise your game. It’s time to step up to the standard of the fire service. No longer are we being painted with the same brush and the same should apply outside the volunteer fire department.
It always pains me to read or hear in the media that a “fire was contained and further damage was averted thanks to the fire department, all of which are volunteers.” To many, that may still conjure up some contention.
Let’s be honest, many communities have had to rely on the instant employee. This was somewhat accurate for fire service when I joined over 35 years ago. There was little training or accountability and members always had an excuse if things didn’t go well. Today, the volunteer fire service has come a long way —not that we had a choice—but, why is it hard to get into a fire department, especially for those that don’t want to take the time to commit to the program?
Volunteer fire departments are demanding. I would like to think that all organizations do the same. It’s okay to put pressure on people to perform. It only makes them better at what they do. Volunteers should always be given the much-needed credit they deserve beyond the fact they gave of their time, because they did so professionally.
To make this point, I’d like to share a story about Tom the plumber. Tom is the owner and operator of Tom’s Plumbing and Heating. He is also a member of the curling club where he often volunteers for various projects. One Saturday, he volunteered to help renovate its lounge and upgrade the washroom facilities. He, of course, stepped up and took the lead. As a professional tradesperson, what kind of job do you think that Tom did? Was it any different because he didn’t get paid for it? The correct answer is no. He did the job with the same professional approach to standards and practice that didn’t differ if he was handing them a bill. The point being, just because you are a volunteer, you shouldn’t sell yourself short. You have the same responsibility to perform professionally, with skill and integrity.
Now, most organizations that rely on an unpaid workforce have a very stringent criteria for recruitment and training. It’s done, not only from a legal or liability standpoint, but creates an environment of pride and ownership. This is something that we in the fire service know well. To that end, imagine if all volunteer organizations modeled themselves after their counterparts in the fire service?
This year will be the true test of the volunteer world. When we look back on this time, will 2020 go down in history as the year that changed the way we volunteer in the future? In the corporate world many are learning that an employee can work effectively from home. In some cases, they were formerly spending three hours a day in their car to sit at a desk and computer just like in a home office. I’m not saying that this will be the norm, but these alternatives, which were forced upon us may, for some, make sense moving forward.
Have you considered the changes we are going to be faced with in our departments? Will you recruit differently? Have your existing members shown signs of reluctance or has 2020 fueled their desire to serve their community even more? A greater feeling of making a difference in favour of fear, where people might rethink getting involved or simply don’t have the time anymore.
I wrote at the outset that volunteer organizations need to raise their game, even more than they have already. In these times, the unpaid employee needs to be valued more than ever and not only treated with respect but made to feel proud to be part of the organization—may that be in the fire service or a local service club. For the most part I firmly believe we are there already but maintaining that standard during these difficult times will be tough. The bar has always been high but it will always remain hard to be a volunteer because quality beats quantity any day.
Being a volunteer is a standup moment for all, be it a paid-on call firefighter or a “true volunteer” without remuneration; embracing the feeling of stepping, giving back and making a difference. We’ve done a lot to raise our game in the volunteer fire service and now is not the time to lose that momentum.
Tom DeSorcy became the first paid firefighter in his hometown of Hope, B.C., when he became fire chief in 2000. Originally a radio broadcaster, Tom’s voice could be heard in the early 1990s across Canada as one of the hosts of Country Coast to Coast. Tom is very active with the Fire Chiefs’ Association of British Columbia as communications director and conference committee chair. Contact Tom at TDeSorcy@hope.ca and follow him on Twitter at @HopeFireDept