I’m asking you to share the challenges that our volunteers face every day. Being a volunteer firefighter used to be a spare time activity and now with all that we do every day, it seems that life is a spare activity in itself. Some will say we can’t thank the volunteers enough for their time, and that’s certainly true, but I think it’s high time that we spread that gratitude to the employers and the families of those men and women that have answered the call in service to our communities.
The life blood of a small town rests on the backs of small business; the grocery stores, coffee shops and gas stations. Those customers that visit these businesses do so with a certain expectation of service. It’s what keeps them coming back. Now take the staff of those businesses and have them leave at any time of the day to serve someone somewhere else. Business owners do a lot to give back to their communities, but sometimes this may just be too much. And if you’re the owner of the store that wears a pager, then that’s your livelihood.
Does your town shut down when the volunteers get a call? More than likely, unless it’s a major fire incident, most don’t even know that their fire department is responding somewhere for help. With medical calls and the like topping our response list, fire trucks rolling out of the hall has become commonplace for many communities. For the customer, when these volunteers show up at the door, they are not wearing the mechanics coveralls, or apron from the restaurant. They’re dressed as expected with no indication that a classroom of students at the local elementary school now has a last minute substitute teacher. That’s why I try whenever I can, through social media and my local newspaper to ensure that the community knows exactly who makes up their fire department. I’ve also reached out to employers and the business community to thank them again and again for allowing their employees to respond when they can.
The same goes for the families. Too often do our members leave their homes at the worst of times to attend to an emergency or take a weekend away for training. To that end, it’s nice to see specific training weekends that cater to families of firefighters so they can come along and be a part of it with mom or dad. I’ve always said the family wears the pager, not just the member.
Public messaging can make people realize how lucky they are to have devoted people in their community who will drop everything to help them. But what if the opposite were the case? Our members are volunteers and may not always be available. What is the public’s reaction when no one comes to their aid?
Let me use this as an example. We provide fire protection to a certain area. Beyond our boundaries, there is simply none. We are located two hours east of Vancouver where the public expects and receives fire services virtually everywhere, however once you are east of my community, under most circumstances, it’s not available. Many a vehicle has burned on the highways east of Hope to the shock and disbelief of the driver that there are actual areas where fire protection does not exist.
People deserve the service yes, but at what cost? Not only do we count on the men and women of our department, but we count on the support system behind them; their families, employers, customers and friends that understand just what they do. We owe it to those support systems to send them home safe and use their time wisely. When a car is on fire with no imminent threat to life, then it will not be attended to.
When I joined the fire service in the early 1980s, you made yourself available when you could, however we weren’t needed that often so it wasn’t very taxing. In fact, a fire call was quite the event when it did happen. In some communities today, it’s just the opposite and it’s almost like you live at the fire hall. All the more reason to be aware of the volunteer’s time.
You should always tell your story and tell their story too, as often as you can. Protect those that sacrifice their time and thank those that allow them to do so. Remind the community who we are, what we do and what it takes for us to do it.
Tom DeSorcy became the first paid firefighter in his hometown of Hope, B.C., when he was appointed fire chief in 2000. He is very active with the Fire Chiefs’ Association of B.C., as communications director and conference committee chair. Email Tom at
and follow him on Twitter at @HopeFireDept.
Volunteer Vision: May 2018
Share your story
You may be familiar with the phrase “sharing is caring”. In this case, if you share this column in one way, shape or form, it may go a long way toward caring for those volunteers in your fire hall. This just may be the opportunity to tell the community their story.
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