Monday, October 8, 2007

How To Get Started, Part 2: Consider the Volunteer Fire Department & EMS

Today I found myself pondering my local volunteer fire department, in which I serve, and our Rescue Squad, with which we interact at car accidents and fire scenes where injuries are involved. I found serious food for thought that should be useful to the development of a Peace Movement.

Say you're the type of person who likes the idea of helping to save people's lives. You could go through life hoping that someday you'll find yourself in a situation where you could make the difference between life and death, or you could join your local fire department or rescue squad, which would not only put you in steady contact with the rewards of lifesaving service, but would also provide you with the training and support network that would ensure your ability to complete your task. What happens when you volunteer for the fire service?

First, you meet with the membership committee, which ascertains your understanding of the degree of commitment that's expected, assesses your desire to serve, checks your references, and does a minimal background check to make sure you never committed arson. Then the general membership accepts you into the service; and on the same night that happens, you get introduced to the team, shown around the trucks, bays, and compartments, and issued your ID, pager, and a t-shirt that you start wearing a lot more often than anything else in your wardrobe. You are a probationary member. From that moment, you're committing to a training schedule that will run you over 100 hours over a period of four months, just for the basic certification that allows you to enter a structure or touch a patient -- and that doesn’t include the regular weekly department training and monthly organizational meeting. All of these procedures are conducted by other volunteers who have come up in the exact same way and are now expert and motivated to bring others up through the ranks. If you fulfill all of your responsibilities and respond to the minimum number of calls over your first year, you move up to full member status, which brings further levels of commitment and the right to vote. All company business, ranging from what contractor services the soda machine, to drawing up specs for a truck, to altering bylaws, to the naming officers, comes across the floor for a vote.

You'll probably buy another t-shirt, and sweatshirt and jacket by this point, or receive them over time as service incentives, as by now you feel naked wearing anything else, for in them you are recognized as an Emergency Responder in your community and to your brothers and sisters in the service wherever you roam, a matter in which you take pride.

Every week you attend the company meeting, whether it’s administrative or technical training. Trainings are conducted by experienced officers. As you go through your activities, your talents and limitations start to fit in with the response plan. If you're claustrophobic, you won't be sent into confined spaces. If you're six-foot-three and 230 pounds, you could find yourself on forcible entry. If you're five-foot three and 105 pounds, you're perfect to get into attics. If you're older or have cardiac limitations, you might become a driver/pump operator. If you can't wear a pack and mask, you could handle the hydrant. Even when you're ninety years old, you can videotape incidents for review and training development. Everybody is a full partner in the operation, everybody is needed on every call, and nobody goes without a job. And yes, sometimes that job is fundraising.

But no matter what, you and the whole team are there every Monday night, and you answer every call that comes in when you're home. And you do that every year, as you get older, evolving into new jobs, and recruiting and training new members so that while some day you will be gone, the Fire Department will always be there. The Volunteer Fire Department was invented by Benjamin Franklin in 1736. It exists today with a million members nationwide, and there are probably an equal number of EMS volunteers. Every emergency, in every locale, in every generation, in every part of America, since 1736, is handled with remarkable efficiency and skill. The continuity and productivity of the services, how they are kept populated, and how they ensure ongoing service from out of the distant past, through today's calls, and onward into the indefinite future, is an integral part of the service itself.

But there's more. Each company sends a delegate to the county organization. Counties send delegates to the regional and state organizations. States belong to national. Colleges offer courses, and vendors sponsor conventions. Heck, we even build full-service nursing homes for elderly volunteers who need looking after. And you know what? At every level, from the smallest town to national, the emergency services wield serious political clout. Candidates come calling, legislation is adopted, and photo-ops abound.

The Volunteer Fire Service and the Emergency Medical Service are genuine movements that extinguish every fire and transport every patient to the hospital, yet only a million people participate. There are perhaps 100 million people in America who hold strong general anti-war beliefs, and another 100 million who at the very least want the war in Iraq ended, but nothing even close to a movement for power and impact exists. If only the same could be said of war mongers, who draw from a much smaller pool. What we need in this country, if we're ever going to come home from Iraq and build and secure a peaceful America for our posterity, is a Volunteer Peace Service that conducts itself according to the successful models provided by Fire, EMS, and dozens of other volunteer community service organizations from the PTA to churches, to the Kiwanis club, the 4-H, or even 12-step meetings. We have to earn the right to call ourselves a movement by actually building one, and when we build one, it will succeed.

I urge you to get started in your community immediately. See the previous post, "How To Get Started," for details. Write to, and check in regularly with this blog,



peterN said...

It is clear that we no longer have a government by or for the people. When most politicians are white rich and multimillionares and are bought and paid for by thousands of corporate lobbiests and both parties are beholden to the same masters to the point where a majority of the governed no longer want war but are still ignored and when both parties still want war , and allow elections with no paper trail and everything is still status quo after a suppossed change in the senate.
There is an "us" and "them". They are a pyramid of power built on greed and power with payoffs in prestige and perqs and money. They are organised with weekly meetings ala Grover Norquist and organised propaganda to "stay on message" with soundbites and corporate owned press. There is a void between what they do and their stratagies and what is done in opposition . I would like to see a corresponding use of strategy and tactics via unity and power to speak up for the common good. I hope you can do that here and it all begins with the idea of wanting a better world. What is right, what is wrong, what can we as a group agree on? I see "anonymous" mention that Move on Org has 3 million members! It seems to be one of those groups that asks others to just give money to them so the few decision makers can use it for what they want, basking in power and prestige but not sharing that power or focusing that power.(push your open hand with fingers spread against a sheet of plastic to break through, and then try to puncture with just one finger, pointed, focused, directed.) I hope you will be transparent and open in all your dealings. I hope you utilize the many talents of fellow members as to make them feel useful instead of used.It is important to focus and have a plan of growth by which you can see quarterly results and a postive movement forward. At this point in development I think communication is important via spreading the word and the truth about what is really going on. There needs to be a story, a narrative so that the people can make an informed decision and to know that they are being screwed...... and no one likes to be taken adavantage of. I like the comments of the few people that I have read on here and hope I get to see an exchange and debate on ideas and tactics. Some of you may recall Ross Perot , and the millions in that movement of which nothing changed , except energy and time diverted from making actual change. Many of these movements are quickly co opted to be toothless but to still allow people to blow off steam as a vent but not to actually do anything, as seems to be the case in many of these supposed peace movements. I wish you all good luck.

Laqueta said...

Good words.