Why would a firefighters union try to shut down volunteers?
Volunteer firefighters are essential to many American communities, donating time and work for billions of dollars each year, but the nation’s largest firefighters union is apparently trying to put them out.
The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) represents more than 325,000 professional firefighters and paramedics in the United States and Canada. If their goal is to replace volunteers with paying members, that would place a heavy burden on taxpayers in many communities.
Shortages of volunteer volunteers have reached a critical level affecting areas in several states, including Virginia and California. There is probably no volunteer fire service that is immune to recruitment and retention issues. These problems can affect the ability of departments to respond when people call 911, and they can have a direct impact on local property taxes.
The Virginia Fire Chiefs Association says the volunteer shortage has reached a critical level. Seventy percent of Virginia firefighters are volunteers, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Ongoing recruitment and retention challenges are compounded by the IAFF constitution and statutes, prohibiting professional firefighters from volunteering. These statutes were codified in March and include âvolunteeringâ in a list of serious charges such as embezzlement, assault on an officer or membership of a terrorist organization. The penalty for a career firefighter who donates his time to help a child having an asthma attack, or to respond to a car accident or help save a neighbor’s home or business could be a “reprimand, fine, suspension from office or suspension or expulsion from membership.”
In states and jurisdictions with collective bargaining laws, the IAFF’s ban on volunteering extends beyond its statutes with recommendations that are highlighted in the “Model Contract Language Manual. Â»Union, to prohibit professional firefighters from volunteering regardless of union membership. If this language is codified into contracts, it could have a devastating impact when someone calls for help. What if a call goes unanswered?
Many communities rely on career firefighters who choose to give back to their hometowns by increasing training programs, filling command roles, or using complicated fire apparatus. Obtaining certification and authorization to drive a fire truck is a difficult requirement for a volunteer. It is not uncommon to have a skilled crew ready to answer a call, but left waiting for a driver. Or, in volunteer services with service nights – in which volunteers agree to staff a shift – some are unable to staff all of the station’s devices due to a lack of drivers.
Most career firefighters started out as volunteers, bringing life-saving experience to their services. Volunteer services generally have strong training budgets and provide quality training opportunities.
A 2020 report from the National Volunteer Fire Council indicates that volunteers make up 67% of firefighters across the country. Of the 29,706 fire departments in the United States, 19,112 are fully volunteers; these agencies protect communities of 10,000 people or less. The report found that the number of volunteer firefighters reached an all-time high in 2017, underscoring the need for volunteers.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, the time donated by firefighters who are willing to volunteer can save communities an estimated $ 46.9 billion combined. Career Firefighters have volunteered since the inception of the Career Fire Department. Isn’t that a tradition worth embracing?
Volunteer firefighters represent the best in America – neighbors helping neighbors. Individuals are ready to answer calls, even knowing that they could make their spouse widowed and their children orphaned by helping the community they serve. It’s a shame to see a union trying to put limits on volunteers.
Frank Ricci is a member of Labor & Special Initiatives for the Yankee Institute for Public Policy in Hartford, Connecticut. He was the lead claimant in the landmark 2009 Supreme Court case Ricci v. DeStefano, and was a union leader for 16 years, before retiring after winning two terms as president of the New Haven Fire Department.