What I didn't know then, and most people don't know NOW, is that they weren't going to go help any "regular" firefighters. I had no idea that the only firefighters out here are volunteers. That for most of the county, this is so. Most of the state, really. I thought they were IN ADDITION TO paid firefighters, but that isn't the case at all.
I also thought they were always going to a fire- that's what firefighters do, right?
I had no idea of the reality until I joined the local fire department.
It has been a few years now, and one of the things I've learned is that most people, by far, believe what I used to believe. And it isn't just about fire, it's also EMS. It would be entertaining, if it wasn't dangerous.
People think there is THE Fire Department. One. National, I think. Or maybe it's by states. They don't realize that each community has its own, totally separate from all the others. I STILL get people who ask if I went to a call that is clearly in the nearby city's jurisdiction. The one paid department nearby. Well, no, I don't get to go to their calls. I'm not in that department.
That one imaginary national department is also a combination department. Most are paid, but there are a few additional volunteers who "help out." I think they carry the ladders for the firemen. Or something.
Where this all stops being amusing is when you realize that people really, honestly believe this.
And that means that they expect the level of service they would get if it really was all one paid department, with equal availability (manned stations, 24/7) and equal training (Fire Academy recruit training for all firefighters on scene). They call 911, the fire dept shows up and rescues them and puts out the fire, right?
Likewise with EMS.
They believe that the fire department has manned ambulances 24/7.
All members of the rescue squad are paid professionals. Different levels of training, maybe- or maybe not.
They call 911, paramedics show up at their door within a few minutes, and take them to the hospital of their choosing.
As recently as last week, I had people assume that my EMT patch meant that was my paid job- even though they were people who KNOW what my job is. They must somehow think it's some sort of "part time" thing I do- but they clearly think I get paid. Most people I've told that I'm a volunteer are very surprised to find out there even IS such a thing. I mean think about it... that much responsibility to someone who isn't even a professional? Yes, people have asked that.
There are two parts of this issue that I believe need "fixing."
First is that people need to understand what level of service they actually have where they live.
In a lot of places, this is NOT a comfortable thing to understand.
It is not a comfortable thing for a lot of people in the fire service to talk about, apparently, and there is a HUGE unwritten prohibition against discussing the actual level of service, instead of the "wishful thinking" level. I believe this is unethical.
I am sorry that it is uncomfortable, but people have the right to know so that they can make adequate preparations to protect their families.
The other part is that people who are "only volunteers" MUST NOT "hide" behind that label or use it as an excuse for ANYTHING. The public expects professional services, and that is what they should get, paid or not. Every effort should be made to keep up a high level of training. There is NO excuse otherwise, whatsoever. Excellent training plans are easily and readily available at little to no cost.
When I first joined the fire department, I was surprised to discover that there is sometimes some negativity from paid firefighters towards volunteer departments. I didn't understand it at first. I do, now. I'll come out and say that I think that either volunteers who are slacking need to get their act together (that's not everyone or everywhere- but it is a lot of places), or people need to embrace the idea of higher taxes and more paid departments.
That second part is highly unlikely, so what does it leave?