The Fire Service has come a long way since the earliest Bucket Brigades were organized in the American colonies. Where once, all able-bodied men in a community would come together in a time of crisis, putting their hands to the task of fire suppression and rescue, modern society relies upon established, integrated organizations to handle these emergencies. People don’t always know who they are or where they come from, but these emergency responders are counted upon to manage various crises rapidly, and effectively.
What hasn’t changed is the reliance upon volunteers to provide these services. According to a January 2012 report of the US Fire Administration, 89.9% of all fire departments in New York State are strictly volunteer, with an additional 4.7% listed as mostly volunteer. The lesson here is that over 90% of the fire service agencies in our state could not perform their indispensable functions without the willingness of community members to enter the service. This lesson holds true in the suburbs of Buffalo, including those from which we at Newton Abbott draw our membership.
What has changed in recent decades is the equipment and training requirements of all firefighters, whether paid or volunteer, as well as the conditions under which we perform our tasks. Developments in building construction and furnishing, passenger vehicle components, and other situational factors of our job have driven adaptations in our gear and methods. These adaptations maximize safety, but increase training requirements. For example, firefighters qualified to operate within structural fires must now be equipped (and trained to properly use) a personal “bail-out” system to escape out a window, unassisted, from several stories above the ground level. Increased training requirements translate to increasing burdens upon state and county training systems, new management challenges for fire officers, and changing recruiting/retention issues on the local level.
Integration with partner agencies has become status quo in many cases, in order to address shortfalls in manpower, specialized skill requirements, and other service delivery factors. Firefighters train with utility companies, traffic incident management, and commercial services (such as Mercy Flight), as we often work hand-in-hand to achieve a desired objective. Drills involving numerous mutual-aid companies are a frequent event, as well as the addition of mutual-aid response units upon initial activation to an alarm of fire.
The contemporary fire service is filled with challenges old and new, uncertainties, hazards, and risk. It’s also full of adventure, fulfillment, and personal reward. The men and women of today’s service work together to meet these challenges, through individual and team skill development, the fostering of fraternity among members, and the pride that comes from playing an important community role.