This afternoon, more than one hundred leaders representing the fire and emergency service community, the federal government, local government and industry kicked off an unprecedented three-day summit to analyze the challenges facing the volunteer fire service -- including volunteer, on-call and part-time personnel – and forge a clear path forward that both celebrates its rich history and community ties and solidifies its place in the modern, increasingly complex national emergency service paradigm.
Preserving the Future of the Volunteer Fire Service is being hosted by the Volunteer and Combination Officers Section of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC). This summit is designed to examine the numerous challenges that today’s volunteer and combination departments face, and will ultimately produce a white paper that lays the groundwork for overcoming those obstacles.
“The summit’s ultimate goal is to develop a long-term strategic plan that will carry the volunteer and combination fire service into the future and solidify its status as a vital component of America’s emergency response system,” said Chief Timothy Wall, VCOS Chair and a fire chief in Wallingford, Ct. “ Volunteer and combination departments make up the majority of fire departments in the United States, we need to remain strong, agile and progressive to preserve the safety of our communities and our responders.”
According to the U.S. Fire Administration, volunteer firefighters are utilized in 93 percent of America’s fire departments, saving our nation $37 billion each year, yet the overall number of volunteers has declined 10 percent since the 1980s.
Nearly 140 public safety leaders and stakeholders will spend the majority of their time at the summit delving into issues such as capabilities and competencies, recruitment and retention, organizational structure, service delivery, community relations and legislative and regulatory issues.
“The input provided by the participants is crucial to shaping how the fire and emergency service sectors move forward,” said Chief Jack Parow, IAFC president and chairman of the board. “These are the folks with the first-hand knowledge and experience that comes from walking-the-walk every day. Just as they volunteer their time to help their neighbors, they have volunteered their time to help us gather information, formulate conclusions and develop a plan that meets the needs of the fire and emergency service community and those they protect.”
Those participating in the summit are not exclusively representative of local fire departments. Speakers at the summit include Chief Glenn A. Gaines, acting United States fire administrator, FEMA; Mr. Bill Webb, executive director, Congressional Fire Service Institute Mr. Jeffrey Arnold, deputy legislative director, National Association of Counties and Mr. Jim Johnson, president, Pierce Manufacturing.
In 2004, the VCOS published The Blue Ribbon Report: A Call to Action - Preserving and Improving the Future of the Volunteer Fire Service. Since its release, that document has served as a blueprint for improving the volunteer fire service that is essential to our nation. This summit will bring that report to life in the context of the challenges being faced by volunteer and combination departments today.