Where’s the Fire?

A co-worker told me something interesting after learning I was a volunteer fireman.

He lived up in the hills in Rensselaer County. “Oh, yeah,” he said, “I always donate to the fire department’s fund drive. Everybody knows if you don’t, they won’t show up if you have a fire.”

I just shook my head. “Fund drive or no fund drive, if you have a fire, you won’t believe the number of firemen and firetrucks that show up. They’ll be coming from all over.”

It’s true. In the suburbs and country you don’t get that many serious fires, so when there is a real fire it’s a pretty big deal — and the response is sometimes out scale with the incident. It’s different in the city, where paid departments have set manpower.

These days a lot of volunteer fire departments are having trouble recruiting members. There are a lot of reasons for this, not the least of which are the demands on a member’s time due to better training standards. But society has changed too, and people aren’t volunteering or joining organizations the way they once did. There’s a good book about this called Bowling Alone that looks at these changes in our civic involvement.

Even still, you can be sure there will be loads of firefighters if your house actually catches on fire, even if you don’t write a check for the fund drive. But if your basement needs to be pumped out…

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