Friday, January 27, 2006

Support your Local Heroes: Volunteer Fire and Rescue

Last night I had the privilege of meeting with some folks out in Treynor, Iowa, a community near my home, to discuss the status of our volunteer fire and rescue unit. This meeting happens each year, as the Chief reports to the trustees of the townships served by the department. Though readers who live in large cities are unaccustomed to the concept of volunteer services, they have long been a part of rural America.

This department gets some taxpayer funding through a property tax levy imposed on residents within its jurisdiction. But that only accounts for about 40 percent of annual operations. Another 20 percent is covered by insurance recoveries from ambulance calls, which in previous years were made without such charges. The rest – nearly 40 percent, comes from gifts, grants, and fundraising. In other words, people give voluntarily to support the public safety work of this organization.

One massive item missing from the budget: compensation for the firefighters, EMTs, and Paramedics who volunteer to go on these calls. They give of their time not only for training, but also in getting up in the middle of the night to fight a fire or help a person with injury or illness. That means they and their families give up a lot. Not only that, their employers give up a lot to allow them to do their jobs. So, there are lots of people here working together for the good of the community, behind the scenes, and unnoticed – until you really need them.

There are rewards for the volunteers, but they are not monetary. They do get to be around very cool equipment, which every guy likes. They also get to be with other first-rate people who are competent to do dangerous work very effectively. There is some joy in associating with others with rare talents. But mostly they do this altruistically, and for the good of the community. Perhaps that is missing in larger urban areas, where community means less and individual means more. But community is alive and well here, and for that I am grateful.

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