Stressors for POC and Volunteer Firefighters

Update:  When I originally wrote this post, I did not know the full identity of “MB Firefighter.”  Since then, I’ve learned that MB Firefighter is a LinkedIn fire service colleague, Judy Smith Thill, CSP, Fire Chief of the Inver Grove Heights Fire Department.  Thank you, Chief Thill, for the use of your words!

By:  Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer

My fire service colleague, and fellow author Linda Willing, recently posted a piece on FireChief.com entitled,

9Firefighter Stress Pride Sources of Firefighter Stress. In the article, Linda “hit” on 8 sources of firefighter stress that are not related to stress inflicted upon firefighters during their management of emergency situations.

A reader, MB Firefighter, left the following comments on the FireChief.com website.

This is a great article and applies to almost all firefighters across the country, whether full-time, part-time, paid-on-call (POC) or volunteer, with only one exception – number 1. While full-time and some part-time FF do [work] shift work, POC and volunteers typically do not.

Because of that, and just due to the “nature of the beast”, the POC and volunteer FF have added stressors.Volunteer Fire Stats Box

  1. They are already working a full-time job outside the FD. They need to go through initial and ongoing FF training and respond to calls—in their spare time.
  1. Their [full-time] job already takes them away from their families. Now the FD takes them away for even more hours in a day.
  1. Because they are called out by pager or fire whistle, they have a hard time planning for and keeping promises on family activities. It could be the kid’s birthday, Christmas morning or some other important event when…beep-beep-beep, the pager goes off and they drop everything to respond.
  1. All FF are under appreciated, but many POC and volunteers are even more underappreciated than full time FF. Because they are not FT [full-time] employees, they get no benefits, such as Employee Assistance. They see the same terrible things as full-time FF, but if they don’t happen to have EAP [Employee Assistance Program] as part of their FT job, they just do without.
  1. They are put down by city personnel and their budgets are usually significantly cut for gear and equipment compared to FT counterparts. For some reason, city personnel seem to think that fires fought by non-FT FF are not as dangerous as those fought by FT personnel, so the budgets are reduced accordingly.
  1. Many POC and volunteers are mocked and called “scabs” by their FT brother and sister FF and thought of as second class citizens because they decided not to do this full-time. We should all be one family.
  1. Although many POC and volunteer can put in as much as 20-30 hours a week (on top of their FT regular jobs) going to calls and training, fundraising, etc., some get no pay at all – they are true volunteers. Those that do get paid usually receive a pittance for the amount of training they have and the dangerous work they do. Imagine being away from your family for that many extra hours a week and having to leave family events at a drop of a hat and not bringing home a decent paycheck to show for it—or any paycheck at all!
  1. If a POC or volunteer FF gets hurt at the FD, they might get some work comp (sic) but because they might not have vacation or sick leave for their FT regular job, a FD related injury could cause them to lose their regular FT job—even if it is something minor.

ALL firefighters are great. I am sure full-time can come up with their own list of added stressors the author did not discuss. I just wanted to add in what I thought was important in regards to POC and volunteer FF.


 

Auto extrication photo 2Certainly some very good insights there from MB Firefighter, sentiments that I’m sure are shared by many other POC or Volunteer firefighters. (I can certainly appreciate their remarks based upon my own experiences working in a combination career/volunteer Fire and EMS department for 26+ years).

What I find to be true for the points made by both Linda and MB Firefighter is that all but one—the impact of emergency incident management on firefighters—are entirely within our scope as leaders and managers to manage out of the fire service. Training, personnel management, equipment and apparatus maintenance, volunteer compensation, EAP for POC and volunteer firefighters, and the rest are all within our capabilities to reduce or eliminate as sources of stress for our people. The only thing lacking is our will to do so.

What are your thoughts on their points? What is your department doing to address these Firefighter Stress Photo non-emergency sources of stress on your people? I’d love to hear some of your answers for use in a future piece in this spot.

About Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer

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Battalion Chief (Ret.) Robert Avsec served with the men and women of the Chesterfield County (VA) Fire and EMS Department for 26 years. He’s now using his acquired knowledge, skills, and experiences as a freelance writer for FireRescue1.com and as the “blogger in chief” for this blog. Chief Avsec makes his home in Cross Lanes, WV. Contact him via e-mail, rpa1157@gmail.com.