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Our thoughts on a shift for volunteers
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Volunteerism is ingrained in our county’s foundation and has been the backbone of so many of our greatest successes on a nationwide and local level.

This nation’s firefighting corps has some of the richest volunteer histories and some modern departments remain volunteer-based.

But most departments are now run by full-time, paid firefighters who view the service as a career. The role of the volunteer firefighter is dwindling, but we don’t believe the role of the volunteer has to dwindle.

During Newton County’s population boom of the 2000s, the number of full-time firefighters and full-time stations increased significantly, and volunteers began to shift into a support system for the full-time staff.

Volunteer firefighters are still needed. If you talk to Chief O’Brien, he feels he is missing 30 more career, paid firefighters and at least three more full-time stations to adequately cover vast Newton County.

However, an increasingly-complex world is sucking up people’s time like never before, and it’s becoming rarer that people are able to devote time and effort to training and being on call. Plus, the chief raises concerns of efficiency by having a hybrid career-volunteer system.

Here’s a key point though: Fighting fires isn’t our biggest concern. Medical calls dwarf the number of fire calls, so much so that fire departments are requiring firefighters to be dually-trained as EMTs and purchasing SUVs to use as emergency-response vehicles to provide speed and added flexibility compared to a hulking fire engine.

We haven’t fully researched the idea, but what if Newton County began focusing on forming a larger, emergency medical volunteer team?

These volunteers would focus on the medical knowledge that would come in handy in so many more situations than their firefighting training. We know some volunteers are already dually-equipped in these roles, and we’re not downplaying their ability. But it seems like it would be an easier thing to form a really large medical volunteer base — a few hundred strong — spread across the county who could be notified when a medical emergency was happening.

Initial response time could drop to a couple minutes if the base is large enough — think if there was one or two emergency volunteers in every decent-sized neighborhood — and this force would provide a huge boost to the current ambulance and emergency services.

We haven’t thought of all of the issues and holes in our idea, but we’re raising the point to begin the conversation.
Volunteer firefighting is important, but if there are issues with the fire service, it might make sense to begin focusing our efforts more closely on the medical side. What do you think? Weigh in on social media, or by emailing