A volunteer fire department is typically the life-line between life and death in rural communities. Men and women remain on call 24/7 and face all of the commitment and seriousness a full-time firefighter will experience – with a portion of the training and pay. Often they are the only ones available to meet public safety needs in rural areas because there is no emergency medical team available at all times or even in the vicinity. A volunteer firefighter requires continuous training to ensure he or she is adequately prepared for the variety of situations that may develop.
Issues facing volunteer fire departments
Fire Engineering Magazine reported that when a volunteer firefighter is appointed to the position of fire officer, many times he or she never receives any officer training or leadership development training, which can create conflicts.
There are three major challenges for volunteer fire departments with regard to training personnel, according to the white paper titled, "Volunteer Firefighter Training," by The National Volunteer Fire Council. These three factors are time constraints, resource constraints and leadership. According to the paper, Americans are spending more time commuting to and from work and spending more time at the office – decreasing the amount of time available to training and certification delivery methods. According to Four Years Later – A Second Needs
In one assessment of the U.S. Fire Service, which was a cooperative study published in 2006 produced by the United States Fire Administration, Directorate of Preparedness, Department of Homeland Security and National Fire Protection Association, many volunteer fire departments tend to have older equipment and apparatus. This means that is is unlikely for the department to have the budget necessary for replacing equipment and thus must rely on private donations to balance operating budgets. Many volunteer fire departments are located in areas that don't have the budget necessary to supporting mass training exercises regularly.
The other issue facing training volunteer departments is leadership – many people in charge of volunteer departments received the position informally and did not receive an education. As a result, these people later often believe that training exercises are unnecessary and that many of the modern training standards not worth the investment.
The importance of volunteer firefighter training
Fire fighting has become a much more multi-faceted undertaking because of the increased number of building materials out on the market. No longer are homes and businesses built with just natural materials or with the same altered formulas. This means that when a firefighter enters a building engulfed in flames, he or she must be prepared to deal with a volatile situation where the fire can react in different ways, travel in different paths or accelerate unexpectedly.
Rural volunteer fire departments require just as much training as personnel of more urban environments. Often members are traveling from much greater distances, which means that decisions must be made on scene even more quickly.
By investing in ongoing quality training and support mechanisms, a volunteer department is better able to support its community. The training provides firefighters with the updated knowledge and skills necessary to handle many unique situations they will need to respond to. In addition, training will boost preparation and department readiness. Having accurate data about the response capabilities of individual firefighters will allow commanders to best determine what tasks each person can perform safely – thereby reducing injuries and increasing the effectiveness of the response.
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