VOLUNTEER FIREFIGHTERS AND EMERGENCY MEDICAL SERVICE ALLIANCE, INC. – A Call to Action

Volunteer Fire and EMS providers of Prince George’s County, Maryland have a unique opportunity to form a “trade organization” that will enable them to better position themselves in the future. The recent election of Pete Mellits as President of the Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association paves the way for volunteers to abandon the road to certain obsolescence for the greatness that they once had and are deserving of. President Pete Mellits fortunately is a charter member of the Alliance and he fully understands the need for volunteers to join the “Alliance.” The volunteers have lost great influence and millions of dollars because previous volunteer leaders sold their birthright for the elixir of prestige (the crack of volunteers in the County). While the previous leaders got hit after hit, when they came to themselves they find the volunteer service in jeopardy.

The “Alliance”, as it is called, is an organization that has been established to help organize the volunteers to seek solutions for their health and well being and to position themselves better at the bargaining table. Right now only Montgomery County Volunteers have successfully bargained for better treatment in the State of Maryland. The Alliance has completed most of the steps to bring power and influence to a group of dedicated individuals and their private fire and rescue corporations. The Alliance has demonstrated it has the power to chart the direction for the volunteers who were struggling under some very poor leadership. Now the volunteers need to realize that they cannot achieve their true potential through the Association alone. The Association does not have the position power, the vision or the mission to serve the needs of the volunteers today. The Association is not set up for bargaining and maintaining the rights of the volunteers. The Association is a social organization that has met the need for volunteers to get information and share information on how the corporations are doing.

The Association can highlight the needs of the volunteers but it is not a part of the fire service in a tangible way. Unlike the watered down version of the Fire Commission, (a once powerful organization) the Commission is a Charter organization of County Government. The Association is only recognized to speak on volunteer issues to those who may listen. This Alliance has been organized to create a liaison between the Volunteer First Responders and local governing bodies, to collect and evaluate data on all deleterious conditions incumbent in all areas where volunteers exist. To compile information concerning the injustices within the Fire and Emergency Medical Services, and implement action to address them. To promote relations of its Volunteer members throughout the Fire and Emergency Medical Services. To ensure that Volunteers are retained and recruited as First Responders, where ever they reside. To facilitate in motivating our Volunteer First Responders to seek advancement within the Fire and Emergency Medical Services.

“The Prince George’s County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association works closely with the Prince George’s County Fire Department administration to continue an excellent working relationship between career and volunteer firefighters and emergency medical personnel.” While the working relationship the Association seeks to establish and maintain dwindles everyday, the Association also has no power to carry out its stated mission. In fact whenever a substantial paid crew is added to the volunteer station, the volunteers are either run out of the station or leave because of these “working relationships.” The Association is not structured to address the volunteer’s “condition of employment” because it is not a Trade Organization. The volunteers are clearly an “instrumentality of the County Government” but they have no rights.

Volunteers have an opportunity to invest in change. Change is what is needed. The Alliance is a group of volunteers, run by volunteers with the aim of improving conditions for the volunteers. If you are a volunteer (any town USA) do you have any rights in your jurisdiction? Who is bargaining for your health and safety? What is your service worth? It is not that the citizens don’t want fire fighters to earn a good living and have good benefits. They contract with paid fire fighters year after year. (And the benefits are great.) The fact is the volunteers never ask for anything but equipment to do their jobs. That’s fair. You want equipment and you get that. Is there anything else you need? Never mind I suspect you have no bargaining power either.

If you need preparedness training or would like to have a preparedness discussion for your employees or community checkout my website http://www.ejones224.moonfruit.com (Systems Emergency Preparedness Consultants) and contact me via email at sysmanemerconsult@aol.com for a free consultation.

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Volunteer Fire Fighters and Politics – Power without Pursuasion

Some of the most powerful people in Prince George’s County came from the Fire/EMS Department, growing from among the ranks of the volunteers. Volunteers have produced mayors, council members and well connected community leaders. Today volunteers struggle just to ride on calls. The Mayor of the most powerful city in Prince George’s County (Mayor Moe) and former Mayor Robinson of the same city are shining examples of what volunteers are capable of. Former Councilman Jim Estepp who ruled the Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department for fourteen years was a volunteer who climbed the proverbial ladder to achieve the rank of Fire Chief. Later he became the County’s first Public Safety Director, a feat accomplished by few Fire Chief’s in the United States.

Where did that political savvy go? Clearly volunteers are a part of the community so it is easy to deduce that volunteers should achieve at the same level of any member of society. It should also be clear that volunteer fire fighters are different from the average citizen. Not that volunteers are better people but they are exposed to situations that allow them to operate and develop at a high level. Today even though the number of volunteers are shrinking due to a loss of identity among its leaders, they still have the same experiences as did the volunteers of the past. Even with superior numbers compared to police and paid fire fighters and at one point even rivaled the number of teachers, the volunteers find that they are a group with power but no persuasion in politics.

In trying to understand why they lack persuasion with the power that they are capable of generating, I have carried on a number of conversations with various volunteer leaders in the County. I even had a chance to speak with and listen to the Executive Director of the Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association in Montgomery County, Maryland. I saw that volunteers in Prince George’s County lack vision for the future. In Montgomery County, which is adjacent to Prince George’s County in Maryland, the volunteers decided to be more organized ten years ago. Their efforts to tame the desire for independence among their companies paid off dramatically. The volunteers in Montgomery County are far more respected in their jurisdiction that their counterparts in Prince George’s County.

It may have never really been a goal of the volunteers in Prince George’s County to be a political force. It is partly understandable since volunteers are focused on serving others and sacrificing their lives for the good of the community. Unfortunately, the political savvy of those who have gone before the volunteers of today did not rub off. The way of the volunteer is being threatened by time and competition. While paid employees of most jurisdictions are “unionized” and command a lion’s share of the resources, the volunteers out maneuver each other for the scraps left over after all the negotiations are done.

Volunteer leaders of today need to contact those politically savvy mayors and other elected officials to gain an understanding of how to find their way back to being a relevant, powerful and persuasive force so they can thrive in the future. If you need preparedness training or would like to have a preparedness discussion for your employees or community checkout my website http://www.ejones224.moonfruit.com (Systems Emergency Preparedness Consultants) and contact me via email at sysmanemerconsult@aol.com for a free consultation.

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Are Volunteer Fire and Emergency Medical Responders Becoming Obselete in Prince George’s County, Maryland?

When I was hired in 1983 in the Prince George’s County Fire Department before graduating from recruit school I pulled up to the Fire Station to work for the first time. I saw the sign of the front of the Fire Station. It read “Accokeek Volunteer Fire Department.” I had no idea what a volunteer fire fighter was. Due to the danger involved in fighting fires I could not conceive of a person volunteering to do the job I was hired to do. I asked the guys I was working with if people in the station were “volunteers” or if the sign had not been changed for some reason? I had a rude awakening. There were people crazy enough to fight fires for free.

During my career I saw the ranks of the volunteers swell to more than 2000 people. At the end of my career I see those volunteers on the verge of extinction. In the metropolitan area of Washington D.C. volunteers have all but evaporated in many jurisdictions. Most of the reasons for the decline of the volunteers in those jurisdictions are not clear but in my jurisdiction it is clear. The volunteers have forgotten how to ensure their success. Volunteer leaders were powerful and in charge in the early 70s, 80s and 90s. They stuck together and they watched out for each other. Now its every man and company for themselves. In the past if you messed with one company the other companies would rally to their aid. Citizens in the community would get involved and support their volunteers. As the volunteers locked their doors and engaged less with the public the community fire station became a distant structure. Children coming to the station became a liability and community events for those future fire and emergency medical providers were no longer offered. The children and youth of the County were not seen as the lifeblood of the volunteer systems. Volunteers were recruited from Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey.

Volunteer leaders turned their attention away from the public for admiration and sought attention and accolades from the administration. The adoring public’s adoration was not as good and appointments to meaningless positions and titles consumed those who were ambitious. Jealousy and selfish ambition became the agenda. As paid personnel moved in and increased in number, volunteers competed to get more paid staffing and abandoned the tried and true principles of recruitment and retention. As the demographics changed the volunteers perspective changed toward the community. The community went from “us to them.” Now almost half the fire stations have little to no volunteers. Volunteers have been strangled by legislation and funds are being diverted all because volunteers forgot how to preserve their position in a changing society. As a major service provider they do not have a contract protecting their interests even though a similar sized jurisdiction (Montgomery County Volunteers) figured out ten years ago a contract with Montgomery County was needed.

Its easy to blame the “Administration, the Union or the County Fire Chief” but the blame lies squarely on the volunteer leadership. Volunteer organizations have not kept pace with a changing society, shrinking budgets and sound management principles. A few volunteers have begun to recognize that it takes a strong alliance among themselves to revive a proud history to make it relevant for today’s environment. As volunteers struggle to determine if they need another organization to represent them they miss the point. They need to negotiate for resources because they have lost their place in society. The benevolent public now questions the volunteer’s role in the future of the service. Elected officials wonder and debate the role of the volunteer. The volunteer leadership has been stripped of their role in determining their future because they requested a paid representative to speak for them. Volunteers signaled to the administration that paid leadership is better than volunteer leadership. It seems that the Administration agreed and gave the volunteers what they wanted, paid leadership.

As the volunteers watch their role diminish from primary provider to supplemental force they better wake up, smell the coffee and read the writing on the wall. If you can’t negotiate for your survival you will be seeking revival. Why be revived when you can ensure you are not deprived of organizational sustaining resources? The problem of the volunteer are not outside forces. The problem is the lack of capability to fight for your place in society. Only volunteers can decide if they will become obsolete.

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Time for Volunteers to Negotiate for Benefits and Protections

Volunteer Fire Fighters have proven that they work to seek the good of the citizens they serve, however, not everyone appreciates volunteers or support them for what they do. As jurisdictions seek to “improve” life safety conditions the first casualty is the volunteer service. Even though volunteers are worth their weight in gold they are treated like tin in a growing number of jurisdictions. How is it that an investment and the crown jewel of any society be treated so shabbily? In this Country Volunteers represent 70% of the service but are being fed peanuts by local jurisdictions while paid fire fighters are given lucrative contracts, sometimes at the demise of the volunteer system. How can citizens who receive life saving care day in and day out neglect the only lifeline that has proven to be reliable for many years at a very low cost?

The question is not the cost of supporting volunteer fire fighters but what is the cost of neglecting them? After watching the Congress of the United States flirt with the future of the citizens of this Country, millions of Americans were left scratching their heads on the logic of their law makers. At the same time citizens need to assess how they neglect their heroic volunteers. Volunteer fire fighters have no idea how to complain or bring attention to their plight as their ranks shrink due to lack of support. The good guys are bewildered that an adoring public has seem to forgotten their sacrifice and their needs as they struggle to serve. As the signs of inattention and neglect mount the good guys are at a lost for words and energy to rally citizens to their cause.

Unlike the military which is funded by taxes, the volunteers can’t survive on thanks for faithful service alone. Most Volunteer Fire Fighters are mostly funded through donations. Maryland appropriates some money to the volunteers for capital items like fire apparatus while some county governments have drastically reduced their contributions to volunteer operations. Those reductions have never been studied to ascertain the impact on volunteer operations. Some jurisdictions have seen drastic reductions in volunteer operations due to budget cuts. Citizens wait longer and longer for service and pay premium dollars for paid fire fighters when adjustments to volunteer budgets is much more effective in the long run. Its time for volunteers to obtain contracts with jurisdictions so at a minimum elected officials can make intelligent decisions about how they will ensure volunteer services are funded. Citizens may decide Volunteer Fire Fighters are a relic of the past. Benign neglect is not a way to make decisions about people who have dedicated their lives to helping others. In the next emergency you face don’t stand there wondering how long it will take for the service to arrive when you can ensure the service will be timely. Without cuts to the paid service, for pennies on the dollar, as a citizen you can ensure your volunteer service will be there when you need it.

Don’t forget about emergency medical services. Training for emergency medical technicians in some Maryland Counties are at critically low levels. Imagine a provider that has more capability than a nurse, that can provide free service, not being available because the low cost of training is not provided to volunteer emergency medical providers. Maryland is extremely proud of its medical system but the appropriations for volunteers to receive the training has slowed to a trickle. Administrators decry the high failure rates of those seeking to obtain training to become Emergency Medical Technicians but they provide very little training money to volunteers to ensure their success. It’s sad to pathetic that those same administrators have done little to improve volunteer’s ability to obtain needed training. How pathetic that a once vibrant system for volunteer emergency medical service providers are almost extinct in some Maryland Counties. Many Counties in Maryland either have a dwindling volunteer medical provider base or medical providers that have very little training to treat the needs of their citizens they respond to. Ask yourself, what am I doing to make sure the volunteers in my jurisdiction are supported? God forbid you participate in the destruction of the volunteer service in your jurisdiction for political gain. Give these heroic, selfless servants a contract for their protection. Elected officials owe it to volunteers to treat them on the same level as paid personnel. Are volunteers second class citizens in your jurisdiction? Do you negotiate with all County employees except volunteer fire and emergency medical providers. Volunteers do the same work but for free. How is that worthy of second class treatment? If you need preparedness training or would like to have a preparedness discussion for your employees or community checkout my website http://www.ejones224.moonfruit.com (Systems Emergency Preparedness Consultants) and contact me via email at sysmanemerconsult@aol.com for a free consultation.

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Volunteer Fire Fighters – Help Wanted and Help Needed

The citizens in the State of Maryland are blessed to have a very large contingent of dedicated citizens who devote themselves to life saving acts everyday for no pay. Do the citizens ever think to check on the welfare and health of the volunteer system? In Prince George’s County, Maryland, it appears that volunteer fire and rescue services are not as important as they once were. Resources are dwindling and have been stripped from the volunteer service rendering volunteers significantly less effective. When a group of people dedicate themselves to the good of the citizenry you would think people would pour out their hearts and support for a group as vital as volunteer fire fighters.

It seems that by the time citizens realize the volunteers are hurting from budget cuts and subsequently the citizens will pay a premium for services they once got for pennies on the dollar. Many jurisdictions have moved away from receiving and relying on volunteer services so this trend is nothing new. The important point is that citizens need to make an informed decision about how their services will be delivered. Many jurisdictions have not been able to afford an all paid service. Cuts to the fire service abound all over the Country as budgets lose revenue. Paid fire fighters are wrongly blamed for budget shortfalls and citizens look to break their commitment to dedicated employees who are promised livable wages and pensions. Don’t look to blame anyone, (paid or volunteer) look to repair and rebuild the system.

Before the fire service becomes “too expensive” in the County think about the health of the volunteer system and improve it. Sure you can raise taxes to cover the costs of hiring more paid fire fighters but soon even new revenue will not be enough. Look to Detroit, California and other jurisdictions who have to wait too long for services because the fire and rescue system was neglected. Before you complain how long it takes to get the service, check to see if you have done your part to keep your fire and rescue service healthy.

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Volunteer Fire Fighting/EMS Providers

Volunteer Fire and Emergency Medical Service Providers make up the majority of personnel who deliver quality services to the citizens of this Country. Why isn’t this product good enough for those who live in urban areas? Elected officials in urban areas struggle to maintain budgets and want to violate long-standing agreements with retirees by diminishing pension obligations and hire high paid fire personnel they can’t afford when it would be cheaper to implement a supplement force to absorb some of the costs. Using volunteers can help bring balance to the system of providing fire and life safety while maintaining and even growing a paid service.

Having a paid service provides a stability that cannot be replaced by volunteers however, a volunteer force can allow administrators to increase service during peak times and expand services during non-peak times which can allow for training activities or moving resources to critical areas that need more resources. Elected officials in urban areas are not thinking “outside of the box” and taking advantage of resources that are time tested and effective in most areas of the nation. Citizens don’t care if a person is paid to perform life saving services or if they are volunteer. Citizens want a service that is reliable and effective.

Some jurisdictions turn to private companies to provide these critical life saving services which is very short sighted. Eventually those private companies raise fees comparable to paid government workers and the jurisdiction cannot respond in a timely manner to convert back to more reliable government personnel. In the meantime the focus on customer service is lost and nobody wants to talk about the loss of life that could be avoided if the proper resources where in place. It is up to the citizens who don’t always understand the issues to pressure their elected officials to take a balanced approach to providing public safety services. Until someone “important” dies the long-term health of the citizens is at risk and they are the casualty of competing priorities. Saving money becomes the priority or securing the union support for elections, rather than a well thought out plan for future sustainment of fire and life safety services.

If you need preparedness training or would like to have a preparedness discussion for your employees or community checkout my website http://www.ejones224.moonfruit.com (Systems Emergency Preparedness Consultants) and contact me via email at sysmanemerconsult@aol.com for a free consultation.

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Tip of the Day – Give yourself sufficient time to respond to disasters or emergencies

One of the most important elements of disasters and emergencies is time. After distressing and devastating events we tend to lament we needed more time. Some emergencies give off warning signs in advance allowing us to respond effectively like weather events. However, if we are not alert to the threats we face the element of time can work against us. Once you complete your threat assessment you can improve your response time to most negative events. Being prepared allows you to eliminate or limit time as a negative factor.

Be aware of impending weather events so you don’t get trapped in flash floods. Inspect chemical storage facilities so you can prevent leaks and spills. Upgrade security features so you can utilize escape or protective action plans. Make sure time is on your side and it does not work against you, your employees or clients.

Take the time to learn more about preparedness activities. If you need preparedness training or would like to have a preparedness discussion for your employees or community checkout my website http://www.ejones224.moonfruit.com (Systems Emergency Preparedness Consultants) and contact me via email at sysmanemerconsult@aol.com for a free consultation.

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