That rare find …THE VOLUNTEER

All-volunteer Rescue Squads, at least in North Carolina, over the last 15 years have seen changes. As I approach 46 years as a volunteer in the rescue service this coming December, I have personally experienced these changes, both good and bad. As an Area 15 Director for the North Carolina Association or Rescue and EMS and a state and IFSAC certified rescue instructor for the last 35 years, I have had the privilege of seeing change first hand and instructing rescuers all across the state to embrace that change and learn. image

Change in about every aspect of life, including the rescue service, is inevitable. Change as it relates to new skills and rescue technologies is, of course, proper and needed if we are to provide the best service possible to those who place their trust in us when they are in peril. After all, we are rescuers, the ones local governments depend on in service to our communities.

Some of the changes affecting local volunteer rescue squads have been out of the control of anybody. Examples include state and local economies and the financial impacts on rescue squads and their members, squad members themselves as they continue to try to earn a living and support their families while serving their communities, the financial capabilities of local squads as local government funds are stretched to the limit, reduced departmental fundraising capabilities as people struggle financially in severely weakened economies, reduced local tax bases as industries have closed or moved overseas and other factors that impact local financial support for rescue squads.

Other factors affecting the traditional roles of local volunteer rescue squads have been following a national trend for some years now: that of rescue services being absorbed, taken over or combined with the fire service, with rescue squads being increasingly tasked more now with EMS and medical first responder roles. This includes squads now being more of an “EMS back-up” role to local units of government.

I recently taught the Rescue Officer Certification Course to a department and in this wonderful class that prepares rescuers to become departmental officers, there is a section four entitled Human Resource Management. This was a section that drew much comment from the class, especially as it dealt with volunteer time available relative to daily departmental tasks, meetings, training and rescue responses.

We started discussing why a person volunteers, not just in rescue, but volunteers for anything. I made a statement that “a volunteer’s time goes to the agency that wants it the most and fights for it the hardest.” That statement was meant to encompass several things.

One must remember that a person’s time, once given, is given and gone forever, never to be recovered again. It is gone. Can that volunteer say “I gave my time to an agency that values me for me, values my skills I bring to the department, and through whom I am making a difference to me and my community”?

Let’s look at this in more detail. A person gives of their time IF they feel that they are needed, appreciated and not wasting their time in their volunteer work. This is what I call the “personal satisfaction” concept. People are social creatures; they need reinforcement of feeling needed and being helpful, appreciated and hearing the occasional “well done” through their work efforts. It’s who we are as humans.

In rescue, there are serious challenges. There are times when we must “put it all on the line,” and depend upon each other, sometimes holding each other’s very lives in our hands. This builds bonds of great trust, I know, because I have been there many times. To many serious rescuers, this type of bonding and trust is the ultimate in a well-trained team. Nearly all human needs for the reasons to volunteer are met.

So, how do you value your volunteers and their commitment of time given? How do they know that they are not wasting their time in serving their communities? Are the volunteer members “making a difference” in peoples’ lives and in their home communities?

The sense of “social commitment” seems to widely differ between us old fire and rescue techs and the millennials. It is a result of the way we were raised and in the times and conditions of that era, versus the current, more “modern” times of the last 20 years. But, a person’s time is still a valuable commodity, and to get them to be long-term, valuable members of service to their communities through your department, you need to recruit them, train them, give them your trust and respect and let them do their jobs. The rest usually takes care of itself.

Likewise, the volunteer interested in rescue and your department needs to know and understand that this is a commitment of time, energy and yes, even money. (I would need oxygen if I was to see how much money I have invested in gear and training over 46 years in rescue). Rescue service is not for everyone; it takes a person to commit to a very different type of community service — service that is for real and often dangerous. If you are fortunate enough to find this volunteer, hang onto them, for this is becoming an increasingly rare find today!

Bob Twomey has been in the volunteer rescue service for 46 years, having served on five Rescue Squads from the coast to the mountains. He is currently a member of Transylvania County Rescue Squad, past Chief and Training Chief, an EMT for 45 years, and is an IFSAC and OSFM certified Rescue Instructor. Bob has been active in SAR, Mountain Rescue, and teaches high-level rescue. He is the chief pilot of Wolf Tree Aviation, and flies helicopter searches and rescue support locally. He is a Crew Chief for the NC Forest Service. He can be reached at 828-884-7174 or at

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