Keeping costs down under the noble badge of volunteerism

The regional
district needs to view its
firefighters as employees, but the firefighters need to see themselves as
volunteers

 

A recent report from regional district staff to the board sparked some interesting discussion between board members at the December 5 board meeting.

The report concerned a proposal to standardize fire officer stipends and rates of remuneration. Regional district staff felt that the move was necessary to properly compensate community members who serve in their fire departments, and would also serve to bring a form of parity to the compensations paid throughout the region’s seven departments.

If I read the sentiments of the directors correctly, it appeared as though most were in favour of compensation, but the amount was still open to debate. Presently, all but two departments have some rate of compensation in place.

To a resident in the regional district who is not a firefighter, the issue probably seems simplistic, if not a no-brainer.

Who wouldn’t be in favour of the compensations offered in the report, especially when most department members would  benefit financially by the pay proposal?

I serve on one of the region’s departments, and I find myself at odds with the report. It has everything to do with perspective, I guess, but I don’t believe I’m alone in how I see the role of a member of a regional fire department.

When I decided to join, I wasn’t even aware there was compensation. I was okay with the discovery that a small amount was paid out once annually for the service, but it was never a part of the reason why I decided to become a member, or remain one.

My motivation was not because I had any great interest in being a firefighter,  but because at the time it seemed like the best way I could serve the community.

In short, the decision was made out of a desire to do community service – volunteer work – at the same time helping myself and other residents reduce our tax bill for an otherwise prohibitively expensive, seldom used service.

From my point of view, it has always been volunteerism that has been my biggest motivation for helping to provide the service. I have never accepted, and it is unlikely I ever will, the regional district’s viewpoint that firefighters are paid employees of the regional district. If I were to accept that, I don’t think I’d be motivated to continue in the service, because a low paying, second job was not what I had in mind when I agreed to do this.

I understand the regional district staff’s need to insist on their own view of reality in the matter of employee versus volunteer. I understand their need to lead on regional fire department initiatives.

I also believe they have some understanding of the motivations people such as myself might have for joining a regional department, and I think they have tried to demonstrate some sensitivity to the issue.

In this particular case, however, I believe this initiative should have been encouraged by the regional district to take place at the community level, where each department could decide for themselves what their costs should be.

I greatly fear the proposal, if allowed to proceed as it now stands, will result in further erosion of the volunteer motive, and create an unnecessary – and in many cases, undesired – tax burden for many of the region’s households.