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Volunteer Community Organization

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March 01, 2014 | NEW YORK Gordon Wren, Correspondent

Last night at approximately 10:30 p.m., I was notified that a non fire department community volunteer organization was responding to a report of an oven fire in one of our communities. The fire department was never dispatched. This incident was the latest of several reports of this organization responding to fires and motor vehicle accidents. The group itself was formed many years ago to assist individuals who had a flat tire, needed a jump start, locked their keys in their car or needed other non emergency assistance – a great and certainly worthwhile volunteer service. It appears that some local residents now call their non-emergency number rather than dialing 911 for fires and other emergencies. Unfortunately, it appears that the organization’s leadership has decided to respond to actual emergencies that traditionally were handled by the local police and fire departments.

Two years ago, we became aware of a municipality that purchased a mini pumper and equipment truck with taxpayer dollars and gave it to another volunteer non fire department. This organization started responding to dumpster, brush, trash and oven fires. This well-meaning group of volunteers was not organized as a fire department and responded to fires without turnout gear or self-contained breathing apparatus. Photographs were forwarded to me showing these non firefighters utilizing booster lines on room and content fires, and one incident in particular showed a volunteer standing on top of garbage in a 40-yard, roll-off dumpster in his wingtip shoes, white shirt and absolutely no personal protective gear as he directed a hose stream into the burning materials. I thought of how many times we have encountered empty propane tanks, flammable liquids and other hazardous materials in burning dumpsters.

At one point we met with the leaders of the municipally funded group and gave them a presentation on the danger of inhaling smoke and all of the dangerous substances that it contains; to no avail. We also suggested that they join the local volunteer fire department if they were interested in firefighting.

We then filed a complaint with Public Employee Safety & Health (PESH) who sent inspectors to investigate and concluded that they had no jurisdiction because this was not a fire department/government organization; even though taxpayer dollars were utilized to purchase the fire apparatus and the equipment on it – HUH?!!!!!!!!

So, we then filed a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) since it was clear that OSHA’s regulations were being violated. After a few months, OSHA too concluded that they had no jurisdiction because the organization was not a private business – HUH?!!!!!!! So, since they are the only two organizations to enforce OSHA’s regulations, we are out of options and the organization continues to fight fires without the mandatory equipment and training.

Firefighting is inherently dangerous; eventually one of these well meaning individuals will get hurt or killed, despite the local volunteer fire department’s best efforts to keep them from placing themselves in very dangerous situations.

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Gordon WrenCorrespondent

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