Happy New Year. To start with some positive news, NVFC Chairman Steve Hirsch was invited to participate in a Presidential Transition Team call with DHS Secretary Nominee Mr. Alejandro Mayokas on December 21, 2020, and discussed Volunteer Emergency Service needs. The call ran for an hour. Chairman Hirsch, who lives in NW Kansas, gave some background on his department and community, the role of the volunteer fire service nationally, and the role of the NVFC in representing volunteer fire, EMS, and rescue service needs. He discussed the NVFC board structure and invited Mr. Mayokas to speak at a future NVFC Board meeting, and he accepted.
Mr. Mayokas indicated that he does understand many communities are dependent on the volunteer fire service, and would like to raise the profile of the volunteer fire service nationally to help with unmet needs. He also asked what the economic downturn has meant to the volunteer fire service, which Chairman Hirsch outlined, specifically those which rely heavily on private fundraising through community events that were mostly canceled this past year. He outlined how volunteer agencies are struggling with staffing because of concerns about personal safety due to COVID-19 and requested a continued dialog shortly which Mr. Mayokas accepted.
Mr. Mayokas asked about equipment and vehicle needs in the volunteer fire service, and the extent to which federal grant funding is helping to meet needs. Chairman Hirsch outlined the unmet needs in small agencies due to a lack of funding.
That while the grants are effective for those who receive them, there is just not nearly enough money made available for the growing needs. Several volunteer organizations have stopped applying for AFG because they and their neighbors have tried for years with no success.
The subject of required training for a volunteer did come up and how to best meet those needs.
Chairman Hirsch recently participated in an interview with NFPA Journal outlining NVFC’s research on retention issues. Volunteer erosion continues throughout the fire service and has only slowed in a few regions while only recently reversed in just a very few zip codes.
Career or volunteer the numbers of first responders testing positive for COVID-19 remains a major and constant concern. Besides the obvious weekly/monthly reporting of first responder COVID-19 deaths, positive cases continue to place small and large groups of first responders on the sidelines until they can recover leaving a terrible strain on operations. It is and remains very difficult.
In closing, I will borrow a phrase from CBS World News. Stay positive, but test negative!