Fires can have a devastating effect on families and communities that last longer than when it takes embers to cool. Property damage is one thing but losing loved ones puts the topic on a whole different level. Those who volunteer don’t just show up to the parades looking bright and shiny; they also drop everything in their lives to respond to fires, car accidents, and other critical events. In the evenings, while most of us are engrossed in our favorite tv show, a firefighter will have their pagers within arm’s length just in case they are called to duty.

Why do they volunteer even though they may be yawning and rubbing their eyes in the morning? Racing to pummels of smoke in the midnight air to help their communities isn’t something most are excited about. It is because these dedicated Americans choose to think beyond themselves to serve their communities in a meaningful way.

Despite the diligence of the firefighting crew, they are often asked to do more with smaller and smaller budgets. Rural fire departments have fewer resources than those in populated areas and must rely on the goodwill of the business community and individual charity to keep their operations functioning. In many cases, communities have no other alternative than to rely on highly trained volunteer firefighters that seek to step above self interest (See Values or Duty).

Volunteer Firefighter Contributions?

Firefighters in Delta County MI.

People believe that firefighting in the United States is conducted primarily by full-time firefighters with fully funded departments. According to the National Firefighters Association out of 1,115,000 firefighters of which 745,000 (67%) were volunteer and 370,000 (33%) were full-time (NFPA, 2020). The training is the same in Michigan, and sometimes it can be difficult to attract volunteers to get through the courses and gain the experience needed when things get difficult. There is a significant time investment by firefighters.

It makes sense to use full-time firefighters in urban areas because of the demand and cost justifications. However, in rural communities where the geographic regions are large, firefighters must be prepared for all types of emergency contingencies. Volunteers need substantial training and commit significant time to training and staying up-to-date. For example, the volunteers in Delta County, Michigan train often work in environments like the national forest, a speeding highway, homes, urban businesses and/or snow-covered farm fields.

Why Do They Volunteer?

Volunteer firefighting contribute with a smile on their face. As a dedicated crew, they do a lot with very limited resources. Despite the challenges and danger, they drop everything they are doing and rush headlong back to engulfing flames to save lives and protect property. Why?

The study assessed firefighter intentions and found that they were motivated by “leadership, attitudinal commitment, a strong sense of affiliation, altruism, and a sense of community” (Haski-Leventhal & McLeigh, 2009, pg. 1).

Volunteer firefighters care about their community and want to help out where they can. Certainly, firefighters gain a little recognition by their activities, but it is the inner satisfaction of helping others makes all the difference. They support their communities, and the communities should support and encourage this type of volunteering, among others. It’s more than just setting an example for others, it is about walk the talk.

The Fire Picture!

Resources are important for any organization, and when they are in scarce supply for first responders, it can create situations difficult situations. Any help from corporations, individuals, or other entities can go a long way in making a difference in the lives of people who rely on these institutions. Delta County Michigan is rural and relies heavily on volunteer help to protect vital infrastructure, property and people.

When structure fires break out, it often takes all the resources in the area to respond, work as a team and overcome. For example, the picture shows a historic building erected 1881 swallowed in flames while a truck from Ensign Twp. feeds the larger pumper from Escanaba Twp with water! Responding departments include Nahma Township Fire DepartmentEnsign Twp. Fire DepartentEscanaba Township Fire Department, Thompson Township Fire DepartmentMasonville Twp Fire Dept. and Tri-Start EMS. There are many ways a person can engage in their community and volunteer firefighting is just one.

Author: Dr. Murad Abel

Haski-Leventhal, & McLeigh, . (2009) Firefighters Volunteering Beyond Their Duty: An Essential Asset in Rural Communities. Journal of Rural and Community Development, (4) 2, pg 1. https://journals.brandonu.ca/jrcd/article/view/400

NFPA (February, 2020). U.S. fire department profile. https://www.nfpa.org/News-and-Research/Data-research-and-tools/Emergency-Responders/US-fire-department-profile