While preparing to write this article about how we in the fire service maintain our community relevance, I have to admit I got a bit stumped. I was struggling with the notion that maybe we’re only relevant within our communities during their times of emergency need.
Sure, we seem relevant to the community during disasters, structural and wildland fires, car crashes, medical emergencies and so on, but what about the rest of the time? How do we go about our seemingly mundane day-to-day routine and what makes what we do during those times relevant to the community?
Sure, there’s training and making sure we’re prepared for the next emergency situation we may be called to, and that’s definitely benefiting the communities we serve. But how does the community know what we do? More importantly, do they think we’re a relevant part of the community?
If you ask those whose homes and businesses we’ve responded to during an emergency, their answer is probably (hopefully) “Yes.” Well, that generally covers about 10% of the population.
So, what about the other 90%? Do they think we’re relevant or just a necessary evil, living off tax dollars and giving little back? And if that is what they think, how do we change their perception and become relevant members of the communities we serve?
By now, you’ve probably noticed I had a lot of questions and very few answers.
Then I got a lesson in community relevance from somewhere I never expected—my own department’s IAFF local #4366!
In my department, captains, like me, are not union members, so when I started seeing on Facebook what the union members had done, a lot of the questions I was asking myself about community relevance were quickly answered. Those members had taken their personal time and skills to start reaching out and helping some in the community with things the community members couldn’t do on their own.
For example, several union members, from lieutenants to paramedics to firefighters, had taken a Saturday to help the victim of a car crash. This individual has been confined to a wheelchair since the crash and his ability to leave his home was compromised due to stairs and other access issues.
Without reservation, they decided to build an access ramp at his home to make his life just a little easier. They got the materials donated and went to work! By the end of the day, the community member could come and go from his home because of the efforts of these amazing people.
Was the ramp perfect and beautiful? Probably not to a lot of people, but I bet it was to the gentleman in the wheelchair!
With that one day’s worth of effort, they (IAFF Local 4366 and my department) gained some community relevance. I wasn’t even there and I was proud of what was accomplished.
You always hear there are leaders at all levels of an organization; this proved it to me.
They didn’t wait to be told to do something or even ask permission, for that matter. They followed their hearts and their heads and did the right thing simply because.
Because they get it! Because they care!
They care about each other, the department and the communities they serve. They’re relevant 24/7/365!
Good work, IAFF 4366. I’m proud to be associated with each and every one of you!