Combination fire department
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A combination fire department is a type of fire department which consists of both career and volunteer firefighters. In the United States, combination fire departments are typically tax-supported in some fashion, and generally have an annual call volume larger than purely volunteer departments but less than career departments.
The career staff assigned to a volunteer station will handle all aspects of daily operations. This includes but is not limited to equipment checks, basic maintenance, firehouse maintenance, etc. The career staff at a station typically do not answer to the volunteer chain of command, but to the jurisdiction they work for. The career staff in a combination fire department staff a station or unit because the volunteers in that station are unable to respond at some or all the hours in a day (volunteer firefighters have traditional jobs/careers that would prevent them from leaving work and responding to every call during working normal business hours). Furthermore, the volunteer organization may not have the manpower to cover all calls and the career staff augments them to provide minimal staffing for preexisting jurisdictional requirements.
Career staff are not in charge of the volunteer fire house. Depending on the staffing requirements, the career staff may be there 24/7, they maintain the station and equipment, but it still belongs to the volunteers.
Volunteer firefighters associated with a combination or volunteer department generally respond to the station or directly to an incident when an emergency call is dispatched. Volunteer firefighters operate in the same range as full-time "career" firefighters, responding to fires and in many communities, vehicle accidents, hazardous materials, confined spaces, rescue from water or other situations as well as commonly providing first emergency medical response (prior to the arrival of the ambulances). Some combination departments require their volunteer firefighters to be trained to the same standards as their full-time counterparts. Often career firefighters will start with a combination department to acquire experience, training, and then attempt to get hired in the career service.
Volunteer firefighters are often compensated in one form or another, and those that are paid are often referred to as part paid or paid on-call firefighters. True volunteer firefighters are few in number, as it is economically unfeasible for fire personnel to be compensated for the amount time required for requisite training and for the personal costs of responding to dispatched calls. True volunteer firefighters are not paid for their time, although the U.S. Department of Labor has ruled that under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), volunteer firefighters can be paid a nominal fee up to 20% of the compensation a full-time firefighter would receive. These nominal fees can be based per call or shift or other requirements of service but may not be productivity based as in an hourly wage. After a certain number of years of service, some departments offer pension-like programs called Length of Service Award Programs, and some states offer tax breaks to volunteer firefighters. LOSAP, worker's compensation, liability insurance, disability insurance, expense reimbursement, and other benefits can be offered to volunteers without jeopardizing their volunteer status with the Department of Labor. However, under FLSA, a firefighter working for an employer as a career firefighter may not volunteer their time as a firefighter or fire marshal for the same employer. A volunteer firefighter may volunteer as a firefighter for the same agency only if they are employed in a different role.
Part paid or paid on-call refers to the fact that some volunteer firefighters are only partly compensated and their stipend or pay often do not fully cover the costs associated with being a firefighter, including lost wages from their primary occupation for response to dispatches and training. Their pay may be hourly based and may or may not qualify for volunteer status under FLSA. In addition, many part paid or paid on-call firefighters with combination departments still volunteer or are unpaid for part or all of the time they spend on training, administrative tasks, equipment maintenance, public education, and fundraising and often cover the cost of supplemental training from their own pockets.
Volunteer firefighters carry radios or fire pagers, primarily the Motorola Minitor, to receive dispatch information where ever they are at the time a call is dispatched. Some combination departments use Nextel cell phones as well as alpha pagers with priority service contracts to dispatch information to volunteer firefighters. Depending on the response structure of the combination department, the volunteer may respond to the station to pick up an apparatus, or go directly to the scene of an incident in their personal vehicle with a full-time firefighter bringing the needed apparatus and equipment to the incident. Some combination departments also use volunteer firefighters to cover unfilled shifts of the full-time firefighters. Most volunteer firefighters live or work in the community they respond to fire dispatches in, and most combination departments have a requirement for residency within the community or within a certain distance of the community, in which they serve. Depending on the department, volunteer firefighters may respond 24/7 to any dispatched incidents or be split into response shifts. Response to incidents may be required during shifts, or a periodic run percentage may be required to maintain active status on a combination or volunteer department.
Sometimes departments have auxiliary volunteers, who are typically mostly older females. They will usually handle some administrative functions and fund raising operations.
Junior firefighters are youths, typically in high school, sometimes junior high school, that learn about local fire and emergency services. They can receive medical training and fire training. Many programs allow them to respond alongside firefighters to incidents and allow them to serve usually as exterior firefighters, and assisting in emergency medical services that they are trained and qualified for. On a combination department, they can provide a basis from which volunteers are recruited from and provide additional manpower under certain circumstances.
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Volunteer firefighters often outnumber career firefighters in a combination fire departments. This makes for a very complicated work environment, as full-time fire personnel typically are unionized employees under contract and volunteers rarely are. Friction is often caused in this environment as the career staff is typically at a station more than the volunteers. This causes the career staff to try and change station SOP's, apparatus equipment locations, furniture placement etc., the volunteers will not always agree.
Another source of friction is often the fact that career staff is in another chain of command. The volunteers cannot be reprimanded by career staff and vice versa. The career staff meets a certain minimum training level and typically completing an academy while volunteers typically have lower minimum requirements. However, in many case, volunteers have been in a department longer than the career staff, but are less trained.
Other issues can stem from inequities or resentment caused by bargained for benefits career firefighters receive under contract including training wages, shorter gear rotations, clothing allowances, and overtime pay. Sometimes starting volunteer firefighters are perceived as using their volunteer positions as stepping stones to full-time career positions.
Insurance Services Office (ISO) fire suppression ratings are independent of whether a department is full-time, combination, or volunteer.
- Dodge, G; Mullarkey, M (2006). "Managing Volunteer Firefighters for FLSA Compliance: A Guide for Fire Chiefs and Community Leaders" (PDF). International Association of Fire Chiefs. Retrieved 11 October 2012.