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July 6, 2009

My Turn: Volunteers deserve our support


This week’s “My turn” column is by Richard J. Bell, director and fire coordinator for the Delaware County Department of Emergency Services.

When I look at our volunteer fire and EMS system, I see a system that has stood the test of time, but is up against some of the most crippling obstacles that it has ever faced.

I see a system that depends entirely on the support of the community in which it operates, not only financial support, but more so in personnel support providing volunteers to respond to the ever-increasing number of emergency calls. It is often taken for granted that someone will show up during a time of need. We ask a great deal of our volunteer fire service _ including responding to trees down in the road, motor vehicle accidents, fires, floods and medical emergencies.

The question that I often ask is _ just how much is the volunteer fire and EMS community worth to us as citizens and taxpayers?

Recently, I came across an article titled, “The Value of a Volunteer.” An interesting statistic that the independent sector has developed is that the cost of a volunteer hour is projected to be $20.25.

This number, of course, needs to be adjusted slightly given the region in which you live, but it gives us a starting point.

Let’s think about this from a countywide perspective. Let’s say that a county dispatches about 9,000 fire and EMS calls annually. If on average five responders came to each call and averaged two hours per call at $20.25 per hour, this would total more than $1.8 million for the hours volunteered.

This still does not include equipment, buildings and 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a week hourly pay for a paid fire/EMS service. These are just some figures to get you thinking about what kind of service the volunteers are providing to our communities. In Delaware County, we have about 1,200 members of the volunteer fire and EMS service.

We have not only seen a steady decline in membership, but more and more difficulty getting enough emergency volunteer responders to the call of duty.

That, coupled with the escalating number of emergency requests for help, has increased the demand for emergency response volunteers. We all too often forget about the birthday parties that volunteers miss, the Christmas mornings with children waiting for Mom or Dad to get home, or the late arrival at a graduation party because they responded to help a neighbor in distress.

So, the next time you see a volunteer firefighter or an emergency medical service provider on the street, say “Thank you!” and as you turn to walk away, perhaps you will say to yourself; “Maybe I should volunteer a little of my time as well!”

As Winston Churchill once stated, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

To write for “My turn,” contact Daily Star Publisher Tanya Shalor at tshalor@thedailystar.com or 432-1000, ext. 214.