Volunteer firefighters deserve to be compensated with our gratitude

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.