Two-hundred and thirty years ago when Benjamin Franklin proposed the idea of fire companies made up of organized volunteers, America was a much different place than it is today.
Firefighting consisted of dousing flames with enough water as fast as possible. There were no worries about hazardous materials, deadly fumes or explosive chemicals. The idea was to save as much of the structure and its contents as possible with the most basic of methods.
As for emergency medical attention, that was even more primitive.
And, the volunteers that manned those departments had far fewer demands on their time than Americans today. So it is that volunteer fire departments and emergency medical services are showing signs of decline; not in dedication, not in expertise, but in numbers of volunteers.
Rob Brady, a local government policy specialist with the state Department of Community and Economic Development, touched on those strains on local VFDs when he spoke to the Warren County Intergovernmental Co-op recently, and suggested it may be time to think outside the box about the future of volunteer departments.
He wasn't presenting the idea of abandoning the concept; far from it. He was offering some options departments might look at as partners with local government.
With the demands of continuous training, the astronomical expense of modern equipment and the limited number of hours most people can devote to training and fundraising, volunteer fire departments could use some partners.
Perhaps it's time to rethink the model and start thinking creatively about combining some organizations in an effort to pool resources and establish specialized response teams that might be made up of members from different departments.
We're not suggesting consolidation or mergers or any plan that would rob VFD's of their identities. They are, have been, and always should be an integral part of their local communities.
Change can sometimes be difficult. It can even sometimes be counterproductive. But, if arrived at through consensus and thoughtful planning, it can result in an overall improvement of services.