by Susan Winters
One of the things that make Redding great is the strength of her volunteers. Whether it be the Library, New Pond Farm or the Fire Department, it is the generosity of our citizens that helps make us one of the best towns in Fairfield County (in Connecticut… in the country and arguably the world!) And, let’s face it, volunteers also help keep our taxes down.
On Saturday, I was honored to be invited to attend a workshop initiated by the West Redding Fire Department on Volunteer Recruitment, Retention and Leadership. It was so informative, that I signed up to help. Those of you who know me are probably laughing thinking of me climbing on a fire truck with a helmet obstructing my trademark fancy glasses… but there are lots of other ways that volunteers can help the fire department without actually fighting a fire or being an EMT. According to West Redding Fire Chief Glen Johnson, they are sorely in need of support volunteers. Help is needed in the way of marketing (if you haven’t guessed, that is what I am going to do), social media, photography, grant writing, secretarial like paperwork, filing, computer and telephone, equipment maintenance and care, traffic control, drivers and much more.
If you have a desire to volunteer and what you’d like to do isn’t on the list, contact Chief Johnson and he will find a way to utilize your talents. Our other two departments: Redding Fire & EMS #1 and the Georgetown Fire Department have similar needs.
Volunteering isn’t just about the great feeling you will get helping out. There is something in it for you too:
- Being part of a team…and that team will become your family
- Tax credit from the town
- Training that will benefit you, even outside of the fire department
- Career opportunities
Sixty Five people attended the workshop, representing 70% of Fairfield County agencies and some from New York as well. The course, sponsored by the National Volunteer Fire Council was paid for in its entirely by a grant obtained by Chief Johnson. Even Chief Cash’s travel from Cherryville, NC and hotel were covered.
Did you know that 85% of the fire departments in the United States are volunteer? And, that over the last 15 years the number of volunteers has dropped by 15%? The West Redding Fire Department has a log of over 50 volunteers but there are only about 20 who do the core work.
The Departments are looking for more women to join. I found myself (not) surprised that the few women involved were in the kitchen puting together the lovely meal served to the people in attendance– oh, did I say that if you volunteer you will be fed very well. There are jobs for women that are NOT in the kitchen, although Southern gentleman Chief Cash said that they do like to play on peoples strengths and who is better in the kitchen….
Teens can join at age 16 and become a full member at 18. Think of how great this will look on a college resume!
Once people give it a try, they get drawn in and love being a volunteer for a few years. Once they leave for college though, they rarely return to town. Volunteers are also needed among residents who are or will be settled in town and who hopefully will enjoy being part of the group so much they will give a long term commitment.
Firefighters help the town in other ways than actually fighting fires. They participate in rescues at the State parks, when a building has a structural problem and any other significant rescue situation.
Glen Johnson has been a volunteer at the West Redding house for 29 years and has been chief for the past five. And, yes, Chief is also a volunteer position. He is an active champion for recognition for his volunteers. First Selectman Pemberton has volunteer incentives on the BoS agenda and Johnson has spoken to our state legislators about bringing these to the state level to work out tax abatement and other benefits- like medical- for these generous folk.
If you do want to fight fires or join the EMS, you can do that too! The $1000 tuition for Fire Fighter 1 course or EMT will be reimbursed to you upon completion of the course (scholarships available)
Chief Johnson and Redding First Selectman Julia Pemberton attended a similar training the day before given by the International Association of Fire Chiefs.
Redding First Selectman Julia Pemberton, West Redding Fire Chief Glen Johnson and presenter North Carolina Chief Jeff Cash at today’s volunteer recruitment workshop at the West Redding Fire Department.
Pemberton said,”Residents don’t understand the time and commitment that our volunteers put in. Whether it be the library, school or Fire Department or any other volunteer opportunity, we want our citizens to be aware of the issues and the serious negative impact it would have on the town if we didn’t have volunteers. And, it is not just the tax effect if we had to have a paid fire department.” She also said that the two days of workshops were an eye opener to her and she hoped that Redding will continue to support all of our great organizations by respecting our volunteers, supporting their work (all of these organizations take financial donations as well if you cant give your time)
Although our three departments are starting an imitative to attract more volunteers, please don’t wait to be asked. Contact them now. You’ll be glad you did.
While I was at the workshop, a fire call came in. The appropriate volunteers rose from their chairs, quickly and quietly filed out and left to take care of the situation. Then, they returned and took their seats with no fanfare. I appreciate and applaud their dedication.