Written by Shelley Plett Wednesday, 21 March 2007 19:28“Volunteers do not necessarily have the time; they just have the heart.”
The Tostitos chips marketing experts explained it all. Did you catch their Super Bowl commercial showing four colleagues “working” together, but in reality, only one of them actually put out any effort?
That’s pretty typical for assigned groups and committees. Too many queens, not enough workers, too many alpha-males, not enough pack members, etc., etc. I’ll stop there before I offend some dangerous breed of animal or overly sensitive gender.
Any group, to get bonafide results, needs passionate people who are in it for the right reasons. The most productivity will probably come from the ones who aren’t concerned with compensation. As nice as some kind of reward can be, it’s not a guaranteed way to get the best out of people. That level of output takes a different kind of incentive. For those with a true volunteer spirit, that drive isn’t going to come from an external motivation.
Take fire departments, which in rural communities are most likely 100 percent volunteer. The U.S. Fire Administration reported that out of the 1.1 million-plus firefighters in the United States in 2005, just over one quarter were career firefighters. The other nearly 75 were volunteer.
Unless you’re one of them or a family member of one of them, you may not give that much thought.
You haven’t wondered how many calls they respond to each month. You may not question where or how often they hold their meetings, or if they meet at all. You don’t know how long it takes firefighters to jump out of a dead sleep, fumble with their radio, shoes, and keys, make their way to the firehouse, pack on bunker gear, and maneuver their trucks to the west end of town. Or the east end. Or the county line. Or a remote pasture three miles south of Jacob Josh Smithjone’s uncle’s place.
(Welcome to the universal rural addressing system, generally more reliable and well known than the newer 911 addressing standards.)
You may hear about an occasional fund-raiser but you might not know about the firefighter training courses that many of them attend and test for or about the University of Kansas burn trailer that the area chief’s bring in to give their crews a chance to fight simulated house fires.
But when you are one of these volunteers—or live in the same house as one—you become interested pretty quickly. Or if you happen to be the one dialing 911. You’ll care then too.
There are plenty of opinions that arise when determining how much funding a volunteer force needs and deciding what is or isn’t necessary for them to function efficiently. They’re not a money-making entity. But that’s not their purpose. Competent emergency response units with the tools, training, and room they need are an indication of a healthy community. And a safer one.
They’ll do their thing again tomorrow whether or not someone says thank you, regardless of their equipment being shiny or worn, and whether they roll their trucks out of a cramped garage or a spacious firehouse.
They don’t do it for a pat on the back. But as someone who’s involved by association with the risks that they take, it’s nice to think that the communities they look out for have their backs.