There's no question volunteering isn't as easy as it used to be - when we lived in simpler times.
Our story Sunday on some local fire companies' having trouble recruiting and retaining volunteers pointed this out. The problem is not unique to our area but has nationwide dimensions. It is alarming too, since as the story points out, 70 percent of fire service is provided by volunteers.
Volunteering is an American tradition. French observer Alexis de Tocqueville in the early 1800s wrote, "... I have seen Americans make a great deal of real sacrifices to the public welfare; and have noticed a hundred instances in which they hardly ever failed to lend a faithful support to one another."
That spirit has not died out, but various factors have made volunteering more difficult. A report by the U.S. Fire Administration cites many issues contributing to the volunteerism problem, including increased time constraints on volunteers caused by two-income families and people working multiple jobs, greater training demands, higher emergency call volume, and increased demands within departments, such as fundraising and administrative work.
Some of the benefits of becoming a volunteer firefighter are "intangible," but probably the most important are: gaining technical skills; the satisfaction of teaching the elderly and young people about fire safety; dealing with a variety of fire situations, so that no two days are exactly the same; fellowship among firefighters; and the satisfaction of providing a vital service to the community. It means neighbors helping neighbors, and families helping families - which makes the community better overall. No one knows how valuable this work is more than people who have suffered house fires.
More practical benefits to firefighters are those cited by the website fireinyou.org. They may include property tax offsets, state income tax benefits, free health checkups, free accident insurance, tuition reimbursement (via the Firemen's Association of the State of New York), the Length of Service Awards Program and free equipment and training.
Receiving a tangible benefit is always good, but the most important payment to a volunteer is seeing the good that is done and that he or she played a crucial part.