Excellence, Volunteers, and the Limestone VFD – Volunteer Fire Departments

There is an amazing renaissance occurring in the fire service, and it is a reflection of a growing cultural renaissance in America today. You might not be aware of how large it has gotten from watching the news because today’s pathetic excuses for reporters wouldn’t know a car if it hit them, much less be able to report on it correctly. If you like one channel, the “reporter” will be obsessed with the Republican driver. If you watch the other “reporter,” he will be obsessed with the Democrat driver, and both will be speaking of the same driver! But aside from news reporting and politics, a renaissance is occurring, and it is growing in every facet of American life-and the fire service is out in front.

All serious firefighters are celebrating the reconnection with our National Institute of Standards and Technology fire scientists and our Underwriters Laboratories fire researchers. The reawakening of these two invaluable partners is bringing out the best and the brightest minds in our profession. The work these agencies and firefighters are producing is improving tactical capabilities, increasing strategic options, and undeniably improving firefighter safety and survivability. After a long and unintentional hiatus brought about by funding shifts and other issues, these great partners are back and more active than in generations past. Those of us involved in training are overwhelmingly pleased with the renaissance of the value of tactics and fireground synchronization.

However, one of the most amazing examples of this American Renaissance is the continued and growing tradition of quality and character within the volunteer fire service, perhaps not in the growing number of volunteer firefighters (at least not yet in appreciable numbers) but in the outstanding excellence of service and performance on emergency scenes that the American volunteer fire departments are delivering. It is undisputable that tens of thousands of communities in America benefit daily from the efforts of the volunteer fire department in their community. It is an undisputable fact that every day thousands of calls for service and thousands of lives are helped, improved, and made better by the contributions of volunteer firefighters. This is a shining example of the American Renaissance of Excellence as reflected in the fire service.

There is another amazing example outside our profession that parallels this quest for excellence renaissance, and it is occurring in the most unlikely examples of an all-volunteer choir and orchestra, whose members vary in age from four to 68 years old. These choirs and orchestras began for the purpose of teaching and encouraging excellence in quality sacred and classical music. The founders wanted to fulfill the need for more refined music education in our communities. These choirs and orchestras maintain a world-class standard of excellence, and they do it for free; they do it to improve their communities. The members do it because they want to belong to something that matters, they want to be part of something noble and inspiring, and they want to be part of something that enriches their community and themselves-sounds like every volunteer firefighter in America.

Two brothers, Brandon and Brett Stewart, founded the Millennial Choirs and Orchestras in 2007 and, like our volunteer firehouses, they set the bar high. To be a member, you must audition and be selected. Once selected, you must participate in hours of drill, practice, and rehearsal. They set as high a bar for the members in terms of performance in these volunteer choirs and orchestras as the full-time, paid professionals. The performances are amazing, and founder Brett Stewart said he thinks their success is because “people want excellence.” He continued, “They want to be pushed. They want someone to demand something of them and expect something of them that’s higher than what they believe they can achieve, and then they achieve it. And once they do that, then they’re never, ever satisfied with anything less.” The group, which encompasses members of all faiths, typically practices once a week for about three months before putting on a performance. The Millennial Choirs and Orchestras even maintain a rigorous code of conduct that extends out of rehearsal and into participants’ private lives and social media activity.

The pursuit of excellence is apparent at every volunteer fire function one attends; it was on clear display at the National Volunteer Fire Council’s conference where behavioral health classes were full and volunteers were taking in as much information as possible to bring back to keep their members healthy. My own community is protected by the Limestone (OK) Volunteer Fire Department, whose commitment to excellence is reflected in the behavior and conduct of every single member from Chief Smith to our newest recruit.

Just like the Millennial Choirs and Orchestras, the volunteer fire service is made up of all faiths, all races, all political persuasions, all genders, and all ages, with one goal: to serve, but not serve in a halfhearted or self-serving way-for recognition or for show-but because they care; no, they love their communities. They, too, want to be pushed; they want to be driven to excellence; and they, too, are never satisfied with anything less.

Recently, someone mentioned that he wanted to take “volunteer” off the side of his department’s rigs; he felt that it inferred the job was inferior to career jobs. He thought that the public had an impression that volunteer fire companies were not quite as squared away. That is misguided; there could be nothing further from the truth. Volunteer firefighters do it because they want to belong to something that matters, they are part of something noble and inspiring, they are part of something that enriches their community and the nation. Never take “volunteer” off the rigs.

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