Volunteer Leadership

I am a career firefighter. Actually, I’m a paid, Union firefighter and I’m proud of that. I worked hard to get this job and followed in my fathers footsteps. I know that many men before me have sacrificed and paid dearly to allow me the opportunity to work in the greatest profession in the world and for that, I am thankful.

I also know that today’s fire service was built by volunteers. I’d dare say that every Fire Department in the United States started off as volunteer. Mine did. If you don’t know the history of your Department, you should.

Rhett wrote  a book on the history of our Department. The book is titled “Firefighting in Roanoke” and  traces our history up until the year 2000. He has plans for a second book if we ever find the time.

Buy your copy of Firefighting in Roanoke  HERE 

Chapter 1 is titled “The Volunteers“. Back in November 1882, the foundation of the Roanoke Fire/EMS Department was laid. A group of men with a vision and desire to serve created a Fire Board and Roanoke Fire Company No. 1. The Vigilant Steam Fire Company No. 1, The Junior Hose Company No. 2 and Friendship Fire Company would soon follow.

The Fire Board composed a set of Rules and Regulations or bylaws to govern the various Volunteer companies. IMAGINE THAT …. 100 years ago these men seen the need to have all their members / individual Departments working off of the same guidelines. It wouldn’t have worked any other way.

Today’s Fire Service is no different in that aspect. We are running and counting on mutual or automatic aid more and more these days… even here in Roanoke. We need to be compatible. Our lives and those of the people we are sworn to protect and serve depend on it.

It’s not easy. It takes discipline and strong leadership. Leadership at all levels. For the most part, we have a lot of that here in our area. Our City (all paid)  is surrounded by either combination or fully volunteer Departments. For those that haven’t had to already, most are now working towards the “Combination” model.

Volunteering is difficult and almost impossible these days. The call volume in itself would keep most volunteers on the road most of the day and night. Our minimum standards have training hours up into the hundreds. Firefighter 1 & 2, Haz-Mat, Driver Operator, EVOC, Rope 1, RIT, May Day, Vehicle extrication, Confined Space and Technical Rescue are just some of the basic classes needed. Throw in a full time job, a family and a house with grass to mow etc and a volunteer has NO TIME REMAINING.

What happens is that more and more calls go uncovered (then turned over to the next jurisdiction / company) or response times get higher and higher until they reach an unacceptable level. The City, Town or County then HAS to do something. The result of late has been to supplement with paid employees.

We’ve seen it work here. In Wednesday’s post, I mentioned Roanoke County. Today, they remain a combination Department serving 251 sq miles. They have grown to 153 full time employees and approx. 250 volunteers. Individual “volunteer” companies still remain and operate administratively under their own rules and regulations. Operationally, everyone operates under the same protocol.

Bedford County is another good example.

Chief of Department Jack Jones and Deputy Chief Marci Stone have recently began supplementing their system with part time paid members. Not in every station but where justified and needed.

The Town of Bedford has a very strong volunteer Department ( I call em “Little Brooklyn”..LOL). Not only do they make their calls, they also run County wide as a Rapid Intervention Team (RIT). Their Chief, Brad “Bedford” Creasy; works for our Department and was a member of mine back at “old” station #3 when I first made Captain in 2000.

Another past member of mine, Brad “Opie” Glidden (from our Station #9 days); is the Vollie Chief for Company #13 in Bedford County.

Bedford County is approx 753 sq miles. They have to have Standard Operating Guidelines and a Chain of Command.


Franklin County is the same way. I was a volunteer there when they began supplementing with paid personnel back in the 90’s. Chief Ty Dickerson is doing it in Lexington. Augusta County is hiring. They ALL have coordinators / directors. They need em.

Being on the road as often as Rhett and I are, we get to meet some great members and visit strong companies. We have had the privilege of seeing some great leadership moving Departments forward in a positive manner. Our good friends “Big Nick” and “Little Nick” from Hyattsville are great examples. Nick and Nick have developed some great “Live In” programs that have helped keep volunteer companies meeting their benchmarks.

Learn MORE and visit FD LiveIn.com by clicking HERE 

Another GREAT friend of ours is Chief Tiger Schmittendorf. Tiger runs the site “Run To The Curb” and is the leading authority on volunteer recruitment and retention.

Visit Run To The Curb by clicking HERE

My point here is that providing Emergency Services to our communities is becoming harder and harder these days and just like it did 100 years ago, it will take progressive and forward thinking to overcome the hurdles that lay before us. We have to work together as a team, as Brothers and Sisters. As a “Department” rather than individual companies.

The days of “Territorial” Volunteer Companies is passing. A 15 or 20 minute response time because you think it’s “YOUR” call and you don’t want to turn it over  is unacceptable! Our citizens expect more. They demand more and they DESERVE it! We can not compromise on Public Safety for the sake of ego stroking.

The sad thing is that despite all the progress being made, one stand out can cast a black eye on the entire service. It’s been happening here.

My last few posts have been about one of our neighboring Counties, Botetourt; hiring a Emergency Services Coordinator.

Botetourt is a progressive County who is growing by leaps and bounds. They have recently started supplementing their system with paid staff and keeping in line with their 2003 Strategic Business Plan are now searching for a Coordinator.

They have met some  opposition, most of which has been led by the Volunteer Chief of the Buchanan VFD, Billy Joe Carter.

Chief Carter opposes the new position for fear that the Coordinator will have the authority to assume command of an emergency scene. His quote in a local paper left me speechless.

“He said Tuesday that if an emergency services director assumes control of a scene “there are going to be a lot of hurt feelings and busted noses.”

 Read my original post on the issue by clicking HERE

Well, that wasn’t bad enough. Jim Bob Billy Joe decided to get a little more publicity and take the issue a little farther. The next morning, he announced in a television interview that he intended to step down as Chief at the 7pm Wednesday night meeting.

He moved away from hurt feelings and busted noses and stated “you can’t fight politics”

Read that post and watch the VIDEO in my follow up post HERE 

Well guess what ??? HE DIDN’T QUIT. The Buchanan VFD missed a golden opportunity. They should have accepted his resignation, taken his pager, radio and keys then filed a restraining order.

Latest from The Roanoke Times HERE

He’s an embarrassment to his Company, the County and the Fire Service.

In the interview where he announced to the world that he’d be stepping down, it was said he feared …

“the change will tear down the century plus tradition of the Buchanan Department” 

I wonder what traditions he’s afraid of losing???? I’d honestly like to know.

I don’t know what this guys is so scared of. The same model / system has worked all around him. Traditions weren’t lost.

I don’t know why the issue gets under my skin but it does. I grew up in Botetourt. I have family there still. When Rhett and I travel, we are often looked at as representing the entire Roanoke area…not just the City. One guy is making an entire Company look like a bunch of hillbillies and it reflects on us all.

Today, he was quoted in the paper as saying “I don’t need anybody down here baby-sitting me,”. Apparently he does.

I’ve received numerous phone calls, e-mails and texts today.

We’ve been on “High Alert” and I’ve even been forced to get a disguise.

Rumor has it that John Boy Billy Joe is pretty upset with my opinion / coverage of this 3 ring circus and is on the hunt.

Actually, several of the calls were to warn me that he was on his way to beat my ass. I just can’t believe that’s true. No way a Chief would would react in this manner right?

I did a little checking just to find out exactly who it is that is apparently “after me” but I came up empty.

I did find someone sharing the same name and a similar  address from back in 2002 but this guy had a felony charge for assault and 2 for eluding police ( found HERE ) . I guess there’s no way this could be the same guy. He couldn’t have felony charges and be a Chief… right?

 The Fire Critic asks “Should Felons be allowed to be Firefighters?” Click HERE

Anyway, we made it through the day. Obviously, I’m very hard to locate.

I guess it’s a good thing he doesn’t know that I work on A-shift and that I’m on duty tomorrow.

I hope nobody tells him that I work at Station #3 on Williamson Rd.

It’s also a good thing that he doesn’t know that I’m the driver and sleep in the first bunk on the left in the Lieutenant’s bedroom.

Of course, if he knew I’m 5’1″ with light blonde hair, hazel eyes and a baby face I’d be near impossible to miss. Shhhhhhhh!

I just hope he isn’t smart enough to come at me by kidnapping Rhett. We have a srtick policy here at Ironfiremen.com …….


I am however always open to good debate. If Chief Carter or anyone else for that matter wants to debate / argue my opinion, Im more than willing to entertain their thoughts. I’LL EVEN POST EM HERE! Just write em down and send em in. Comments are easier than ever as long as you’re logged into Face Book or don’t hide behind an anonymous name. I’m waiting by the mail box!

 LMAO… you guys stay SAFE and in House maybe this circus will move to another town.

Captain Wines