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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About managingemergencies

I am a professional consultant with 30 years of experience in managing emergencies. My background and skills gave me the foundation to start Systems Emergency Preparedness Consultants. If you need preparedness training or would like to have a preparedness discussion for your employees contact me via email at sysmanemerconsult@aol.com. I held various positions in the Prince George's County Fire/EMS Department until I retired in 2007. As a emergency planner and trainer in the Prince George's County Office of Homeland Security I planned exercises and training for government agencies and citizens groups. I was appointed Fire Chief of the Prince George's County Fire/EMS Department in 2009. I started Systems Emergency Preparedness Consultants in June of that year. I had the opportunity to become the Assistant Fire Chief - Operations of the District of Columbia Fire/EMS Department and served for a year as the Interim Fire Chief. I am a trained mediator, mediator team leader and trainer. I also served as the Fire/EMS Department Equal Employment Opportunity Officer.
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