Mutual Aid Is Expanded To Fund Raising, Training

Mutual Aid Is Expanded To Fund Raising, Training

Many benefits can be realized from membership in county or regional associations of fire departments, and the experience of the volunteer departments that formed an association in Madison County, Ala., may benefit those departments that are operating without any formal association with other departments.

The major advantages of an association that we obtained in Madison County include improved communications, a definition of mutual aid and jurisdictional areas, common training programs, common fund-raising events, increased political clout and a common interface with government agencies.

The Madisqn County, Ala., Association of Volunteer Fire Departments was formed by four unrated volunteer fire departments. Two other departments quickly joined. The county boasted only six engines at that time. Very shortly, departments that were organized in unprotected areas joined the association. Now, only five years later, we total 14 departments with 26 engines. All but the three newest departments have been rated.

Communications improved

Communications have been greatly enhanced. We have come from nothing at all to a 24-hour dispatcher tied into a countywide 911 system (with two minor area exceptions). We have a common fire radio frequency for the county, two-way radios on every apparatus, and tone-alert radios for the volunteers.

However, our contacts are not limited to runs. Our bimonthly meetings, training exercises, fund-raising events and fire prevention activities have brought us together into one large family. We have multiplied our circle of individual friends manyfold. Ideas and techniques are freely exchanged to everyone’s benefit. This, too, is communication.

We no longer call other fire departments on a hit or miss basis. The values of formal mutual aid plans have been well publicized and like others, we are also reaping their benefits, such as prefire-planned multiple response to high-risk buildings like schools, etc.

Training benefits

Often training is a problem for volunteers. It is somewhere between difficult and impossible for each fire fighter to travel to a distant school, and limited budgets make it impossible to send instructors to each tiny volunteer fire department, especially on a regular schedule. But when an instructor faces the combined members of all departments in a county, his trip becomes well worth while and is easily justified in the school budget. In addition, when one of us schedules a special event, such as a house burn, others are invited, thereby multiplying the benefits realized.

Fund-raising events and fire prevention activities that were too difficult for individual fire departments are now tackled by the association with shared benefits. The association also helps prevent conflicts in scheduling events by the departments.

The final, and perhaps best, benefit has been our single-point-of-contact with other agencies. In our case, it made governmental funding possible. When any of the original six independent departments petitioned the county commissioners for a “gizmo,” all too often the response was, “We can’t give you money for a ‘gizmo’ because it would cause ill feelings in the five other departments and we can’t afford six ‘gizmos’.”

United front presented

Now we approach the commissioners, as well as Civil Preparedness and the Forestry Department as a single organization with our requests. Among ourselves, we decide who gets a “gizmo” this year and who next. When the elected officials know that the members of all the volunteer fire departments, as well as their families, friends and a large supportive community, stand behind the request, they listen. Also, no longer does each individual department have to keep a large contingency fund available to repair engines, buy new tires, etc. By averaging among the 14 member departments, a much smaller standby fund is needed.

A committee works with the County Water Department Department to help upgrade existing water systems and to make sure that the needs of the fire service are built into new rural water systems.

The common front our association offers also opens other doors. For instance, a large municipal fire department told us it would be happy to help us with their surplus, provided they didn’t have the hassle of having to arbitrate or decide among our departments. The association takes on this task, freeing this source of goodies for all of us.

Association structure

The structures of associations are quite varied across the United States. The way we are organized is on a mix of individual membership by each fire fighter in the affiliated departments and the necessary affiliation of each volunteer fire department. We have two governing bodies, the executive board, consisting of the association’s president, vice president, secretary and treasurer, and the fire chiefs council. Each has its duties spelled out in our charter and bylaws. Guidelines on how funds are to be divided are also delineated in the bylaws.

Our charter was drawn up and ratified by the membership, and then it was signed by the chairman of the county commissioners.

To help others who may be developing similar ideas and plans, we will send copies of our charter and bylaws to anyone who sends a self-addressed 8 X 10-inch envelope with 28 cents postage to our secretary, Speed Kastorff, Rt. 2, Ardmore, Ala. 38449.

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