Let Nozzlehead hear all about it.
He’ll answer you with 2,000 psi
of free-flowing opinion.
Send your letters to:
Nozzlehead, c/o FireRescue
Penn Well Corp.
21-00 Route 208 South
Fair Lawn, NJ 07410
Attn: Diane Rothschild
Got a fire service
question or complaint?
The Volunteer Fire Rescue Gamble
Let’s hit the tones and see what happens!
The volunteer fire/EMS/rescue service in North
America (as we know it) is in a crisis. It’s not “gonna
be in a crisis,” it IS in a crisis, and you are correct, few
want to genuinely fix the problem. Now, when I say
fix the problem, I mean fix it so when whoever dials
Before we go any further, I want to clarify that I
am going to narrow my response with focus on the
area that you described—a suburban, populated area.
While we could cover areas other than that, we don’t
have the time right now. However, let me say this: If
someone decides (for example) to live in a rural area,
he will get a rural response, which means a long and
very limited response in most cases. You cannot, on
one hand, want to live “miles from the nearest human
being among nature” but then have an emergency
and expect service a few minutes later. Other than
rare occasions, your stuff is gonna burn up (without
residential sprinklers), and whoever had the heart
attack (check online for AEDs) is in real, real trouble.
That’s just how it generally works with rural living.
Your department and the described problem are
far from unique. I travel pretty frequently and always
have my scanner on, and in so many cases like you
described I hear tones ... and then tones ... and then
tones ... and the response is a crapshoot.
A few years ago, I heard a call for someone having
trouble breathing, and tones went out. And then three
minutes later the dispatcher advised that the person
was having severe trouble breathing, and the tones
went out. And then about 10 minutes into the run,
they advised the person was unconscious, and more
tones went out. And then it was a nonbreather cardiac
arrest—and tones didn’t matter any longer.
I am a five-year volunteer firefighter in
the Northeast, not far from New York City. I
belong to a volunteer fire department (VFD)
that has paid “house men” who handle clean-
ing, maintenance, and dispatching but are
not classified as fire or EMT responders. Our
district covers 4. 5 square miles with a popula-
tion of about 40,000. We have a highway and
a mix of residential, commercial, and light
industry. We are dispatched about 1,800 times
annually with a $3 million tax-based budget—
but that doesn’t mean we actually respond.
That is my frustration: We quite literally may
or may not get a crew on the road for a fire
or emergency medical services (EMS) call.
There are times where our tones are activated
and activated and eventually we may get a
crew for the run or we go mutual aid, whereas
our neighboring fire department goes through
the same routine. It is not unusual for us to
take 10, 15, or even 20 minutes to get the
right vehicle (engine, rescue, or ambulance)
with the right crew (adequate qualified personnel) to an emergency call.
I have raised the issue to some of our
leaders as well as some of my peers, and
they look at me like I have two heads. They
remind me that, “We are just volunteers.” It
blows me away. These are the same people
who find time for nonresponse fire depart-
ment social activities but do their minimum
when responding; many times, they respond
“slowly” to get their length of service award
program retirement points vs. even trying to
make the run. They have no problem getting
the fire department jackets, shirts, food, tax
break, and other benefits, but they fail to
genuinely respond. When I talk to the chiefs,
they bring it up at meetings, but they too (the
chiefs!) fail to get out of bed for a call. One
of our chiefs scolded us to respond more
and one of our members reminded him that
he himself (that chief) hadn’t been active
either—that is, until he got elected as a chief.
I always thought that the public would
care, but honestly no one who matters really
cares, and the public seems to be oblivious.
Quite frankly, I am getting tired of responding
to the firehouse with one or two others and
being unable to respond because of no staffing
or no driver.
I am writing for your thoughts on this very
frustrating problem and to see what we can do
about it before something really bad happens.
-—Lonely in Quarters