AbstractThis study was set out to study the experiences of volunteer firefighters in the United State. The results of this study of reveals that firefighters majority belong to white males and they come from a broad range of occupational backgrounds. In addition, according to the results majority believe that this is their main volunteer role and that they are tightly committed to it. Furthermore, author relates characteristics of fire departments to volunteers and draws implications for the further elaboration of this voluntary role. Experience of Working in Fire ServiceIntroductionVolunteer firefighters provide fire protection to three fourths of the geographical area of the United States.
There are estimated to be a million of these individuals and about 25,000 volunteer fire departments in this giant sector of the U. S. fire service (National Fire Protection Association, 1986; Welter, 1986). These organisations date to the 1700s and count George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Paul Revere, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Aaron Burr, and Benedict Arnold among their founding members (Smith, 1978). This old form of public service embodies the American values of democracy, patriotism, and grass roots organisational autonomy ( Jacobs, 1976, Perkins, 1987). Like most voluntary community organisations, volunteer fire departments emerge at the grass roots level.
Communities aware of the need for fire service respond by creating their own firefighting unit with recruits from the local area. Members can be committed to altruistic service through a highly visible, action oriented team. For decades, these organisations have thrived on local community culture and support. However, forces now acting against this voluntary action have made it questionable whether the volunteer fire service can survive. The increasing urbanization and suburbanization that characterize modern society result in more calls for departments, while the demand for service has increased.
In many areas, volunteer emergency medical squads now depend on firefighters to make the first response to medical calls. The percentage of farmers and shift workers is shrinking, which lessens the human resources available during daytime hours. Increased mobility among families takes potential recruits out of local communities. People moving in from urban areas often have little prior experience with volunteer departments and thus may never consider joining them.
More organisations need and compete for the disposable time of potential volunteers. Finally, fire departments often do not know how to market themselves to potential recruits. In light of all these factors, the following questions are relevant: What is the human capital of the volunteer sector of the fire service, and what are the implications for recruitment and retention of volunteers? This report addresses these questions. Conceptual GroundingSmith’s (1981) distinction between voluntary organisations and volunteer organisations and his notion of pure volunteers are useful in describing volunteer firefighting.
Smith wrote that the general term voluntary organisation (nongovernmental and not for profit in legal status and purpose) encompassed both the nonprofit organisation with a paid staff and the volunteer organisation. The former achieves its goals mainly through the efforts of paid staff rather than volunteers, even though volunteers are likely to be present at various levels of the organisation (Smith, 1981, p. 28). In the volunteer organisation, goals are mainly accomplished through the efforts of volunteers rather than paid staff (p. 29). Volunteer fire departments seem to fit neatly into the second category.
Pure volunteers, Smith (1981,p. 23) said, would be individuals receiving no remuneration whatsoever while performing very valuable services. & dquo; The vast majority of firefighters fits this description, although some receive small stipends for each turnout, and others are eligible for pensions and tax breaks.