“Serving as a volunteer firefighter is easier than you think… drop by the station most Tuesdays to learn more or to apply.”– Arlington Fire Chief Michael King, 2021 Arlington Town Report
If you haven’t read the 2021 Arlington Town Report, or if you missed the pages detailing Fire Department operations, it is worth a read. We will see you at the high school on Monday night for the town meeting, and we hope you’ll join us in supporting our budget on Tuesday.
The numbers you’ll find in our budget in that town report reflect the actual cost to taxpayers in the three towns that we serve. You should know they don’t reflect the actual cost of providing those services. Each year, we count on the generosity of donors who contribute to our nonprofit 501(c)3 Arlington Fire Protection, Inc. to pay for a great deal.
Our annual Fireman’s Carnival (July 15 and 16 this year) brings in a lot of that support. We are really hoping for better luck this year with public health and weather conditions.
Your dollars all mean a lot, yet your dollars can only do so much. We also need your time.
We need a few more people willing to dash out the door, to leave loved ones behind, day or night, in any weather, to face any of a host of problems and situations with courage, skill, and pride.
Join us to serve your neighbors
What really gets us out of bed when that pager goes off at 3 a.m. is knowing neighbors need us.
Actual fires are thankfully rare, usually no more than a handful in the course of a year. You all do a pretty good job of keeping your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in good working order—please keep it up!
There are many other reasons why people call 911, and we always do our best to respond as quickly as possible, with as many of us as we need, to every call.
As Chief King mentioned in the Town Report, every volunteer fire department in the state of Vermont—and across the country—has struggled for decades to recruit people selfless enough to do sometimes risky work at inconvenient hours for low (or no) pay. In 2021, 57 percent of our responses to 161 calls were handled by four to eight firefighters.
Think about that.
Four people can do a lot, but fighting a fire with so few is likely to be either dangerous, or extremely dangerous, to the firefighters involved. We rely on mutual aid from surrounding towns to help us when we need them.
Join us to keep town taxes low
Communities across the country have for years been converting from an all-volunteer fire department to paid services, often combining fire and EMS.
Assistant Chief Randall W. Hanifen of West Chester (Ohio) Fire-Rescue gave a presentation on that during a fire service conference held virtually in 2020, describing the reasons why this is happening nationwide.
“The overall trend is that volunteerism is continuing to decline as you have dual-income families, children in sports, and just lack of an understanding and desire to do blue collar work,”Assistant Chief Randall W. Hanifen of West Chester (Ohio) Fire-Rescue
We are doing our best to maintain the status quo, an all-volunteer fire department, in part for the good of our town taxpayers (ourselves included).
There is no way to convert from volunteers to paid staff without very significant added cost.
On page 33 of the Town Report, you will find our 2022 proposed budget (subject to approval by town voters on March 1). Revenue includes $164,485 from Arlington taxpayers. Another $66,208 comes from Sunderland taxpayers, and $24,251 from Sandgate taxpayers.
On page 34 you will see what we currently spend it on. Personnel costs are 5 percent of the total. This $13,050 line item represents the sum of all stipends paid to our officers to offset the cost of responding in their personal vehicles. The rest of the municipally funded part of our budget goes to pay for diesel fuel, equipment, and consumables. (Oh, and $6,000 for phone service and making sure we have enough pagers to go around. Which we do.)
What you will not find on those pages is the cost of payroll or benefits for any full-time staff. Personnel costs for paid fire departments are nearly always significantly higher than what those departments spend on maintenance and fuel, not the other way around. Personnel costs are usually the largest single line item (or at least high among them).
If we are ever forced to go down this road, you can count on a very significant expense to stand up and then maintain a paid fire department. That has proved to be the case even for towns that convert to a mixed-staffing model with both paid firefighters and volunteers.
Join us for the satisfaction of helping
This might be last on this list, but it is by no means the least of the reasons to join your local fire department: Helping people is its own reward.
We have all kinds of jobs to do, each contributing to successful resolution of problems. You do not have to be in top physical shape to play a supporting role on our cast of dozens.
We do need people who are truly interested in helping others. Volunteer firefighters are motivated in some part (hopefully a large part) by the pride we take in doing important work on behalf of our neighbors.
We are looking for people who agree that helping other people who need it feels good. We want people who are also willing to do hard work (even if at a radio desk). People who are willing to train to be ready for whatever, and eager to participate.
There are also (always) additional openings for cadets (junior firefighters ages 14 to 18). Our cades train with us, and respond to calls with us, though they are not allowed to perform hazardous duties. We are very happy that our cadet corps has grown to a healthy handful in the past year. We are thrilled to watch these teenagers grow into adults before our eyes, and to help teach them skills that prepare them to serve as full-fledged firefighters.
How, where, when to join us
To protect your personal information and privacy, we do not accept membership applications online. We will provide printed applications in person. You may opt to view and download a copy to print on your own. You can bring completed applications to our headquarters (East Station on Old Mill Road). You will find us there most reliably on any of the first four Tuesdays of the month.
Our application asks you to acknowledge that you have read and agree to abide by our Standard Operating Guidelines. We also require new members to read and agree to our Articles of Membership and the Bylaws of Arlington Fire Protection, Inc. No tour of our new member induction packet would be complete without a gander at our Cell Phone and Social Media Policy.
We will be happy to provide printed copies of all of these if you drop by.
Generally, our officers meet on the first Tuesday each month (7 p.m.); we drill on the second Tuesday (6:30 p.m.); our Board meets on the third Tuesday (7 p.m.); and on the fourth Tuesday we alternate each month between a second drill, or a meeting of the full membership.
If you have questions beyond what we have covered here, you can reach out to us on Facebook. Or, swing by East Station on a Tuesday evening.
Act before we are critically understaffed
As Chief King noted in the Town Report, our 161 calls for service in 2021 were the highest total in at least a decade. We are starting off on a similar pace in 2022.
We are determined to continue doing our best. We will keep training, we will keep responding, for as long as we can. We will do our best to be enough.
Our staffing situation is not an emergency, yet. But we are thin enough to make the point to ask: Can you help us? Will you join us?
Thanks in advance.