Some training partners and I recently had the opportunity and honor to travel to rural Missouri to help with some safety and survival training. It was a one day event on a Saturday and the department and area that we were in is staffed solely with volunteers. We realized very quickly that these men and women were eager and a little anxious at the same time about this series of drills.
My background in the fire service started in a volunteer department and I am still very involved with that agency as a volunteer and as a part-time staff position. I understand the obstacles that are present in these very small, rural, and underfunded fire departments. This department covers over 300 square miles with no paid staff and a budget that is a small line item in most urban career departments.
The one thing that I had to remind myself is that this is one of only two days off that these firefighters were getting this weekend and they were spending it at a voluntary training. There was not a lack of effort or interest on the part of this group of volunteers. Even coming from a similar background, but not as rural as this department, I had really forgotten “where I came from” in the sense that in both agencies that I represent, we very seldom lack for most things; especially training.
This day we were requested to present and run drills for Mayday and RIT along with some safety and survival techniques. When we asked how many of the 16 firefighters had had prior Mayday training, only one held up his hand and he mentioned it was limited. Most had not heard of LUNAR or the parameters for calling a Mayday. This was an important part of the class that the training officer wanted to make sure we covered.
I have taught free classes for years and have never regretted it. Those free classes have typically been state sponsored courses that allow us to charge or not. In my area we border some smaller departments that have small budgets and we try to help those districts and departments by not charging or only charging for materials. It is something we can do to help our neighboring departments and firefighters.
These larger trainings that are manpower intensive and require some travel and a lot of prep time, we typically charge for. There is also time away from our families and we like to get some compensation for our time away and efforts. We are never going to get rich, but it does cost money to put these trainings on. This weekend we agreed to do this for free, and am I glad we did.
The whole group of us agreed that we felt a sense of having really helped these firefighters and there was a huge feeling of satisfaction. I don’t mean in a “pat me on the back” kind of way. It was the satisfaction of knowing that there are people that need this and just don’t have the resources or even the information to find the resources. These firefighters will probably not have many opportunities to get to state or regional fire schools and will likely never make it to an event like FDIC. They are bound to their area by budgets and resources.
By the end of the day everyone had rid themselves of their anxiousness and had been very willing to participate. The RIT drills we do last and we had teams wanting to go through more than once and were getting very good at them. They were commenting on the things that they had learned and were asking lots of questions. It wasn’t because we were good, it was because they were wanting and needing this kind of training and they were taking advantage of the circumstances before them.
Oh, and we were invited to their annual Christmas party/fish fry. They go gigging and then fry it up that night for their Christmas party. Brotherhood is alive and well in rural Missouri and we are trying to clear our schedules to make the party.
What I am asking all of us to do is to pay forward the opportunities, experiences and hard work that we have been lucky enough to be on the receiving end of. I know that you can’t always accommodate all situations, but we, as a fire service cannot forget about the less fortunate in our own profession. I feel we have a duty and an obligation to find these smaller departments and offer them our help and not wait to be asked.
Here’s my challenge; this upcoming year, for those of you that have the means and resources, go out at least three times to departments that are less fortunate and their areas and host a class. Find out what they need and give it to them. If you can’t provide what they need, I’m sure you have the contacts and network to get if for them. If you don’t, let me know and I will assist you in getting them what they need.
This Christmas, let’s remember to be generous and to be kind. Pass it forward this coming year and for years to come.
As always, thanks for reading and stay safe.