Spotsylvania News

Jeff Branscome writes about Spotsylvania County.

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Battling fires and misperceptions

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In researching today’s story about Spotsylvania’s fire department, I was surprised to learn that one of the most common problems in departments everywhere is simply not understanding each other. Volunteer firefighters often assume that the career side doesn’t respect them. And the career firefighters assume the volunteers are never held accountable.

And so, whenever you ask a question or talk about an incident, those perceptions show up in the replies.

In 2004, George Mason University’s Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution looked at the Fairfax Fire Department to explore these mispercptions and how they impact rescue work. The researchers found that both volunteer and career firefighters actually share a lot of views. But, the study said, “Many interviewees suffer from misperceptions of what they believe ‘the other side’ thinks of them.”

Most often, they heard volunteers say the career firefighters don’t value volunteers. And, researchers said, they did occasionally hear someone say volunteers are unnecessary. But that was not the predominant view.

Career firefighters did overwhelmingly think that volunteers were not disciplined and that there is no accountability when a volunteer errs in at a fire scene. But, the report said, “On the other hand, volunteers feel there is a double standard and that volunteer mistakes are highlighted unfairly in comparison to career errors for similar or even greater shortcomings.”

The study also found that firefighters were often arguing over past slights or incidents that no longer have any bearing.

But perhaps the most interesting part of the study, is one that applies directly to the situation in Spotsylvania today; training. Volunteers told interviewers that they were not welcome at career training and that classes were not scheduled for times or located at places convenient to volunteers.  There was also a debate between the firefighters as to whether training or experience mattered more.

The report said, “There are differences of opinion among volunteers as to the need for and value of repeated and consistent training. These differences of opinion contribute to misunderstandings among the career personnel as to the level of commitment of volunteer firefighters.”

That seemed especially pertinent, given today’s story where volunteers wonder if their experience matters and training standards are in place to assure every rescue worker has the needed education.


  • Steve T.

    Great work Amy.

  • Martin (Marty) Work

    WE kew this over a decade ago, but squandered the opportunity for training our Fire and Rescue personnel for a PERCEPTION that business as usual was the most appropriate way to attend to the safety needs of the County’s citizen population of past and present.

    Doesn’t appear that public PERCEPTIONS of their Fire and Rescue management has taken any leaps forward into a world of tough realities and not mere perceptions. Such is the nature of wake-up calls, but we have to answer the phone first before taking on any more perceptions and/or misperceptions.

    Apparently the desolution of perceptions should be coming from the top and working its way down to the rank and file.

    Knowledge and experience cannot work or be counted in the mix for getting results when the chief chef doesn’t understand that piss and vinegar makes for a bad receipe and has an after-taste that serves only to divide those taking part in finding solutions while being served up at two separte tables.

  • LarryG

    My take is that it is not unusual to have in any organization some inter-agency rivalries.

    and when you have different standards for different people or groups – it creates enormous problems … and it’s managements responsibility to have one set of standards – and to enforce them uniformly – across the board.

    The public does not care if volunteers are part of the staffing as long as the job gets done.

    We have volunteers in the schools and they are expected to meet the same standards that apply to career – and it’s managements responsibility to ensure that happens.

    It’s not rocket science but it does require an awareness and acceptance that it’s the job that defines the work – not the worker.