One volunteer firefighter said Tuesday night the wear and holes in his aging, faded Capital City Fire and Rescue shirt remind him of his status with the department.
"It kind of sums up what's happening to our volunteers," Steve Byers, a volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician from the Juneau Station said during a meeting at the Glacier Station about departmental reorganization plans.
Some in the crowd of about 40 laughed when Chief Mike Doyle told Byers he would be on the uniform committee. But Doyle said Byers' point about volunteer retention was valid.
Doyle and Juneau City Manager Rod Swope hosted the meeting. A second meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday in the Juneau Station.
Many in Tuesday's audience expressed concern about what was going on with the volunteer firefighters who work with career firefighters.
"It is alarming when you have a combination department," Training Officer John George said. But he added that volunteer retention is a national problem.
Doyle said there isn't one simple reason why volunteers leave.
Swope told Byers the city can do something about volunteers' uniforms.
"But there are other things we can do," he added. "You resonated a lot of the things I've been hearing."
Other questions arose about the possibility of a property tax break for the volunteers, something permitted by the Legislature that would require only the approval of the Juneau Assembly. Others asked about the full-time career firefighters getting the best equipment.
Some wondered how volunteers could be helped by a reorganization plan that turns the volunteer chief positions at the four stations into volunteer captains.
Swope told the group the plan places more importance on volunteers.
Under the reorganization, two division chiefs would be added beneath the chief and deputy chief. One deputy chief will manage the career firefighters. The other, a volunteer with a $1,000-per-month stipend, will manage the volunteers.
Advertisements for the positions close within the next two weeks. The new division chiefs are slated to begin work Jan. 1.
Rick Abbott, a volunteer at the Auke Bay Station, asked what guarantees the two will have equal standing.
The job descriptions place them on equal terms, Swope replied.
"I'm the first to admit that it's not going to take care of all of the problems in the department," he said. But he said he hopes it will address the current lack of communication, consistency and morale.
"If we need to make adjustments, we'll do them," he added.
Former Chief Alan Judson, who left the department in 1990, said Tuesday he liked the plan.
"It looks awfully familiar to something I tried 20 years ago," he said.
He didn't succeed, but he didn't have the support of his city manager, he said.
Judson added that volunteers have to realize times have changed and increased standards are necessary. People can sue departments, even volunteers, for poor performance, he said.
"Give it a try," Judson said.
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