Last week, producers at “America’s Voice AM” contacted two board members of the International Association of Fire Chiefs’ (IAFC) Volunteer and Combination Officers Section (VCOS) to join in an early morning television spot. Chiefs Brita Horn and Norvin Collins were quick to answer that call and join in the conversation with television cohosts Jessica Rivera and Terrance Bates.
San Juan Island (Washington) Fire and Rescue Fire Chief Norvin Collins and Rock Creek (Colorado) Volunteer Fire Department Fire Chief Brita Horn were asked numerous questions about the importance of volunteer firefighters that respond to emergency calls in their local communities.
Right off the bat, Chief Collins stated, “People do this [volunteer firefighting] as a calling because they want to help their neighbor.” Chief Collins is completely correct; it is a calling to want to serve your local community. There’s a burning (pun intended) desire in folks that want to respond to an emergency and make someone’s worst day better. It is definitely a calling that takes hours and hours of training to qualify as a volunteer firefighter. It requires dedication to complete certifications like Firefighter I, Firefighter II, EMS, HazMat and even Driver Operator to respond to emergency calls. Chief Brita Horn shared “it is what volunteer firefighters inspire to do.”
According to a National Fire Protection Association report, there is an estimated 1,115,000 firefighters in the United States. Of that total number, 745,000 or 67% are volunteer firefighters (2018, nfpa.org). That’s close to three quarters of firefighters that respond to emergency calls and are community members and neighbors. They might be farmers, ranchers, accountants, or teachers; however, they are community members that are vital to keeping the community safe. Chief Collins’ fire department just returned from two back-to-back wildland fires the night before. He stated in the interview, “Ninety percent of the responders were volunteers” there to protect their community.
A few volunteer departments across America are newer than others. Chief Horn told the story of the formation of a 501(c)(3) nonprofit volunteer fire department that her neighbors created together right after 9/11. Because of the 9/11 tragic event in New York City, the neighbors gathered to create a fire department. She stated, “that day led us to start a fire department halfway between Steamboat Springs and Vail.” The local community volunteers respond to emergency calls of neighbors and those who travel through the community. “Every one of our calls are important, and we are definitely educated, trained, equipped and ready to go for any emergency,” Chief Horn reassured the viewers and hosts.
When asked about serving outside their local community, Chief Collins shared that there are multiple wildland fires burning across the western states. “Our volunteers responded as strike teams outside of our state (Washington).” Volunteer firefighters also are assigned and sent to floods, hurricanes, rescue, and emergency relief outside their home states.
It was an honor to share the experiences and stories of volunteer fire departments across the states with the viewers of “America’s Voice AM.” We hope there will be more opportunities in the future to spotlight volunteer firefighters that respond to the call.