Volunteer firefighters should be commended

| June 24, 2020 1:00 AM

This letter is in response to a letter that was written to the editor by a concerned Whitefish community member, Ina Albert. Her concern was in reference to the Whitefish Fire Service Area looking at creating a volunteer fire department.

I feel like I speak for many volunteer firefighters around the area and beyond, when I say I take umbrage with Albert’s comments. While I am sympathetic to her feelings on the issue, I do not, however, agree. Volunteers make up 70% of the nationwide firemen workforce. Having been one myself in volunteer status for 15 plus years, I understand the training and time away from a regular paying job, it takes to be enrolled. Volunteers are expected to learn, train, and be at the ready for any emergency that should arise, from car wrecks, wilderness rescues, water rescues, avalanche rescue, structure, wildland and car fires. They are expected to respond to calls professionally and take the same oath as “professional” firefighters.

One difference being, that volunteers do this on their own time and have been heavily commended by those professionals they work beside. Leaving family outings at the drop of a hat because someone they have never met is in need of help. Getting up in the middle of the night to attend someone’s emergency after having just pulled a 12 hour shift at their regular job. These folks should be held on the same pedestal as our paid firemen.

A comment from Albert stated that volunteer stations have to “rely on surrounding fire departments for help.” If there is a structure fire in Whitefish, Kalispell, Columbia Falls (anywhere paid members are staffed), they call for help from those said surrounding volunteer fire departments, equivalent to a volunteer station requesting help from a surrounding paid staff station. This is an agreed upon mutual aid understanding with all fire departments. For example, if a structure fire was toned out by dispatch as a fully involved structure fire, the ranking officer of the volunteer station responding, would ask for mutual aid from another department at the time of page. That being said, it is sometimes likely that the paid station would arrive on scene before the volunteer station. This does nothing to the outcome of the structure fire just because someone is paid and the other is not.

The last thing I would like to respond to is Albert’s comment about the Olney Fire Department. I thought that was totally uncalled for and flat out blasphemy on the department and the town as a whole. There WAS a chief that embezzled money from the department, yes. That happens often in BOTH paid and volunteer stations. That has nothing to do with the response time. The statement about Olney being constantly out of volunteers, stands true nationwide. Every volunteer station is having the same trouble. They may have a roster of 30 plus folks, but only three or four show up due to their life circumstances. It is not just Olney. Further, mentioning that the town is “constantly at odds with the department,” is just not true and frankly slanderous. It was an issue when the prior chief was running things, but that has been resolved and put to bed over 3 years ago. The town has healed from that incident and is trying to move forward. To bring that up again and push that pain onto the current members, is just plain mean and uncalled for, especially given the original intent of her letter. The volunteers that make up the Olney Fire Department currently, are very hardworking and dedicated to what they do. They have worked extremely hard to overcome the trauma and drama the previous chief had left and working to rebuild and preserve the legacy its founding fathers had intended.

Please find a better way to explain your discontent about the current situation with the Whitefish Fire Department without bringing down our volunteers across this nation. Those paid folks appreciate the support and NEED the volunteers to help them as well. Please remember that.

Ronnie Kerney, Olney