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The fraught future of the volunteer firefighting

Marin County firefighters look on during controlled burn training in San Rafael, California.
Marin County firefighters look on during controlled burn training in San Rafael, California.

Firefighters and fire departments perform a critical service in our communities.

Not only do they prevent and extinguish structural fires, but they also respond to medical emergencies and help mitigate the effects of natural disasters.

That’s why it may come as a shock to you that more than 70 percent of fire departments are staffed by volunteers, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.

Many of these volunteers respond to emergency calls part-time while balancing demanding full-time jobs.

In addition to the commendable efforts of volunteer firefighters, another critical aspect of fire safety is the implementation of fire watch services.

Fire watch involves monitoring specific areas or structures for potential fire hazards, especially when fire protection systems are temporarily out of service.

This vital service ensures the safety of buildings and occupants during events like construction, maintenance, or system malfunctions.

Understanding the fire watch requirements is paramount for those responsible for implementing this service.

It involves having knowledgeable personnel on-site, equipped with the necessary training and tools to detect and address fire risks promptly.

Compliance with fire watch requirements not only safeguards lives and property but also contributes to the overall efficiency of emergency response systems.

Whether it’s a temporary situation or an ongoing necessity, adhering to these guidelines remains crucial for maintaining a vigilant and effective fire watch presence in our communities.

Volunteer fire departments are having to contend with a variety of challenges, including dips in volunteerism and heightened standards for fire and emergency response teams.

All the while, climate emergencies are becoming more frequent and dangerous for all of us – including first responders.

What changes – if any – should the volunteer fire departments make to better support their responders? How does pay complicate the equation? We convene a panel of experts to discuss.

Copyright 2023 WAMU 88.5

Lauren Hamilton