Volunteer Fire Departments

via portagefirefighters.org

via portagefirefighters.org

About 80 percent of the towns we cover have volunteer fire departments. The towns give “grants” and “aid” to the departments each year for their yearly budgets, so they aren’t self-sufficient. Some of them are, if they provide their own ambulance services, but most aren’t.

Since they aren’t an official departments, none of the volunteers, fire chiefs included, don’t have set “office hours” or work hours for that matter.

So, we rely on cell phones and sometimes all of the fire officers to get quotes on fires, accidents and whatever else I can’t think of right now. It ends up being a lot though. As a paper, if we know about a road being closed for an extended period of time we want to get that in the paper because our readers will have been affected. We want our readers to know what happened, so we do our best to get those types of briefs in the story.

It’s a delicate relationship because there’s no give and take.

As a reporter, there isn’t much I can do in the way of reciprocating the information that I am asking for. It’s awkward at times, but the departments are more than happy to see their name in the paper.

Getting comfortable with your volunteer fire departments is key. They have to trust you. They aren’t your typical officials. These are men and women who have normal lives on the side. Most aren’t used to the media inquiring about their everyday activities.

Most of the time they already know why you are calling. That makes it easier, but it’s usually the conversation no one wants to have. They know the drill. People getting hurt is never an easy topic, but people have the right to know what happened and, if possible, how.

You have to make them comfortable and, when you do, you have to do your best to keep it that way. Once they trust you, you’ll slowly be able to get scoops.

Jonathan

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