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The value of volunteer firefighters

Posted: August 11, 2014 - 12:01am

What is the value of a volunteer firefighter or EMT?

Volunteer emergency responders are a highly valued resource not only in our community but across the nation. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, 87 percent of the nation’s fire departments are volunteer or primarily volunteer. If we are doing our jobs right when you call 911, you should not notice a difference if the emergency responder is a full-time paid employee or a volunteer.

Volunteer firefighters and EMTs in Juneau meet the same training requirements to become certified. They are outfitted with the same equipment and are expected to perform 100 percent competently on scene.

The hard costs of volunteers to CCFR are easy to pull together. They are not free labor as some might think. There is a significant investment in training and equipment. When they come in the door they are issued just over $3,000 in equipment right out of the gate. This includes: bunker jacket, bunker pants, fire-rated boots, fire helmet, nomax hood, fire-rated gloves and a pager. This does not count specialty rescue gear for people serving on our special Rope Rescue Team, Water Team or Hazardous Materials Team or radios.

Volunteer firefighters attend a 240-hour academy to get the basic certification to enter a burning structure. For those that want to serve that cannot make that time commitment, we have created a scene support program that is 50 hours in length. That program teaches the basics of safely operating on an emergency scene in a support role. We are currently working on a program that falls in between these two programs to qualify people to be a firefighter that works on the exterior of a structure.

For those that wish to delve into the busiest end of emergency services, we have emergency trauma technicians that attend a 40-hour class for certification. People that would like to go to the next level and become emergency medical technicians certified by the state of Alaska attend a program that is 120 to 160 hours in length. All of the training costs for our programs are 100 percent covered by the department.

Some of the types of things volunteers are asked to do and do very well are: structural firefighting, vehicle fires, boat and ship fires, driving fire engines, driving ambulances, driving squad and rescue trucks, operating jet boats, providing medical care and comfort to sick or injured people, extricating people from vehicle accidents, learning and practicing leadership skills, team building, rescues on water or ice, rescues on our trail systems, setting up incident command systems, consulting with other communities, supporting emergency responders at scenes, rescues in the back country or rugged terrain, rescues on the glaciers, working at hazardous material scenes as a technician, providing flying in helicopters, providing public education, recruiting and training future firefighters and EMTs, fire investigations, responding to natural disasters, working with federal and state agencies on joint operations, assisting with assessing and containing meth labs, working on movie sets, standing by at public events, providing station tours, instructing and training people from private industry, responding with the Coast Guard, standing by for high-risk police operations, helping shape state legislation and attending regional disaster drills.

As you can see, the tasks volunteers are called on vary greatly. There is something at CCFR for anyone that can live up to our department’s core values of teamwork, integrity, professionalism, positive attitude and service. These values are what built CCFR for us to enjoy today. It is our duty to uphold these values for the responders of the future. We have room for all genders, ages and nationalities to serve their community. We have people from our cadet program to folks in their 60s actively serving the department.

What do I get out of volunteering? Not only do you become part of a tight-knit international family of firefighters but you receive amazing training locally and across the country. There is a stipend for emergency responses and training, all of the equipment is provided, you get to work behind the scenes in many community events, there are periods of adrenalin rushes, physical and mental challenges, you build tight life-long bonds, you get to help your friends, family and complete strangers on some of the worst days of their lives. We cannot always fix the problem but we can always make it a little easier on them. You get to give back to your community by making it a safer place to live, work and play. Becoming a volunteer firefighter and EMT was one of the best decisions I have made in my life. The life experiences that I was able to gain cannot be matched by any other service. You truly get to make a difference. You have the ability to provide something to your community that really matters, you can save a life, minimize property damage and you can make someone’s worst day ever just a little bit better. We would be in a world of hurt if it was not for every one of our volunteers, firefighters, EMTs and support staff.

If you have high personal standards and want to make a difference in your community, contact Assistant Chief Quinto and talk about how the time you have to give fits in with the department and pick up an application online at www.juneau.org/ccfr or at the Juneau Fire Station.

• Rich Etheridge is the fire chief of Capital City Fire and Rescue.

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