Horry County, South Carolina, laid out $90,000 to one of those consulting groups that issue reports about how to improve fire and rescue services. During this decade of the early-2000′s, the fashion favored by most of these consultants is to preach volunteerism. One of them up in Michigan even took money from Detroit to tell them that they’d be wise to convert the city’s entire FD to a largely volunteer force, keeping paid drivers and administrators.
But somewhere along the way nobody has clued in the consultants that the volunteer departments are having a recruiting problem, too. Even in areas with a strong VFD tradition, such as Pennsylvania, some departments are simply unable to replace their older members as they leave the active service.
Horry County is a large part of the northeast portion of South Carolina that includes the Myrtle Beach area. The county provides fire protection to the unincorporated areas and EMS coverage for the entire county and cities. They operate 38 fire stations, but only 11 of them are staffed with paid firefighters. The rest are wholly dependant on volunteer FF’s for coverage, mostly in rural areas.
Horry County Station 41
One of these, Station 41, has only one volunteer member and scrubs on 94% of its calls. The all-volunteer station with the best response record is Station 19 which has 13 volunteers, yet still misses 39% of its dispatches.
One of the 70-some recommendations to improve service calls for the career stations to operate with a minimum of 3 FF’s in the suburban stations and 4 in the rural stations. In addition, they call on the county to initiate “an aggressive recruitment program to increase the number of active volunteers.” Easy for them to say. The report does not make recommendations on how to achieve this.
They also propose doubling the number of battalions from two to four and utilizing the paid B.C.’s on weekdays and relying on volunteer Batt. Chiefs on nights and weekends. The County is 1,100 sq. miles in area and the consultants feel that too much is left uncovered whenever there is a working incident.
The entire report is 196 pages long and you can read the document in .pdf form HERE.
Today’s edition of the Myrtle Beach Sun News carries an article about the challenges that the county is facing in getting volunteers qualified for duty. The HCFR requires them to pass a background check, an initial agility test and a physical before actual training can begin.
Then they have to take the standard firefighting training along with courses in CPR, haz-mat, infectious diseases and a final agility test. A department spokesman says that the entire process can be completed in three months.
But the paper’s interviews with prospective volunteer members exposes the problems that many other VFD’s are coming up against. And that is a growing culture of non-committment and me-first attitudes that clash with the spirit of volunteerism.
The article quotes a bunch of people whining because the requirements don’t mesh with the applicants’ personal needs. One of them complains that the Infectious Diseases class is being held in June and July. And that’s when a lot of people prefer to go a vacation, don’t you know?
Some of them complain about the time it takes to do the paperwork necessary to apply. Many others flat out refuse to take the necessary classes. About 85% of people who express an interest in joining fail to complete the required procedures. Some of them even complained that they didn’t get enough “encouragement” from whoever they expected to get it from.
Firegeezer brings all this up because it illustrates once again the growing cultural phenomenon of people who want to feel good about themselves by being able to hang the certificate on the wall and telling their friends that they are a Volunteer. But they don’t want to actually do any volunteering, let alone working to achieve the level of ability demanded of it.