Panelists at MACo’s Summer Conference urged increased communication and partnership between state and county governments and volunteer fire departments.
Participants in MACo’s Summer Conference Session, Sound the Siren: Maryland’s Volunteer Fire Service Needs Help all shared their interest and longtime support for Maryland’s volunteer fire companies. Many also shared personal stories that made attendees realize the profound changes that have taken place over the past half-century throughout the US.
Sam Goldwater, Strategic Planning Chief of Singerly Fire Company in Cecil County shared the history of fire departments operating independently of government since a wave of WWII veterans bolstered the associations’ ranks in 1949.
Since those days, there have been many changes to fire service, however, as several panelists noted. Some changes include:
- 70% of all calls are now for emergency medical services, not fire protection
- Plastics and lightweight construction methods have contributed to an increase in cancer among firefighters and made fires more complex to fight
- Firefighter training and certifications are more in-depth and time-consuming, taking about 2 years for a new volunteer to acquire
- The predominance of dual-income families and an increase in the demands of work has resulted in a downturn of volunteerism across many organizations nationwide
Pete Mellits of Morningside Volunteer Fire Department in Prince George’s County described the major areas of firefighter delivery, for volunteer and paid service, including apparatus and gear, buildings, people, and time.
Johnie Roth, Legislative Director of the Maryland State Firemen’s Association, described the landscape of current support for volunteer fire companies of local fire taxes, state and federal grants.
All speakers emphasized the need for partnership with county governments and for statewide attention for volunteer fire company needs. Best practices shared include adding fire departments to county comprehensive planning groups, helping write grants, and considering new local and state revenue sources.
Nearing the end of the session, Senator Serafini emphasized his support for Maryland’s volunteers, and shared that as a child he fell asleep to the sound of a radio scanner. Heads nodded throughout the audience and following the session, clusters of attendees spoke with speakers about next steps on this important topic.