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The Hazards of Volunteering
I went to a couple of meetings last month. At the first one Sandy Hume, one of our county commissioners, told the group that volunteering was necessary to the success of our community.
I suppose he’s right but for the life of me I can’t figure out why anyone would volunteer to do anything in our valley.
There’s an old saying in the military, and probably elsewhere as well, that says, “Never volunteer for anything and always ask for a receipt.” In Allenspark that seems to be good advice.
I’m a volunteer of course, and I can’t figure out why I do it. After the commissioners meeting I was collared by a person who never volunteers for anything and berated for the WIND’s coverage or lack of coverage of various events.
The WIND is really approximately 16 nice people who fortunately happen to like each other and who gather together a couple of times a month to put together this journal. We do it because we think it benefits the community and keeps the populace, both resident and non-resident, informed. Mostly, though, we do it because it’s fun. It’s sometimes hard work and it sometimes interferes with our private lives but if it weren’t fun we wouldn’t do it.
People who don’t volunteer seem to forget that unless volunteers have fun, they’re going to go home and never come back. People who don’t volunteer, like people who don’t vote, have no right to criticize those who do. When they harass them, don’t recognize their good work, or accuse them of theft, the volunteers tend to get all bent out of shape and they quit. Who can blame them?
Here at the WIND nobody makes a dime. But we do hand out a plaque now and then and we have some snacks or lunch when we get together. Several times we have had a dinner at which we pat ourselves on the back and recognize that we do something important and we’re still having fun. This year we recognized Otto and Lee Zavakos for all the help with mailing labels. We had a good time.
But in the past few months, eleven out of seventeen first line volunteer firefighters have turned in their equipment and their pagers and have gone home because they aren’t having fun any more.
Much of the discussion has centered around the selection of Mike Osmun as fire chief, but that’s not really the problem. The problem is Bruce Kester and the Fire Board. They are responsible for this mess, which Bruce says “is in the best interests of Allenspark.” And Bruce, is, of course, not a volunteer but an elected, paid bureaucrat.
And speaking of bureaucrats, the second meeting I went to was that of the Fire Board. It took an hour and a half to conduct 15 minutes worth of business, including the starting of a recognition program for the volunteers. Too late. Everything important was in Executive Session, about “legal matters,” which is to say mostly how tax funds will be expended to defend the Fire Board against the allegedly illegal hiring of Mike Osmun.
When one volunteer offered his eye-witness account of three separate incidents in which the lack of volunteers resulted in near tragedy all Bruce had to say was “Thank you for your comments.”
How would you feel if that’s how your Fire Board responded to your needs as a volunteer?
Bruce recently told our county sheriff, George Epp, that there was no public safety concern in Allenspark because of the lack of volunteers. Well, neighbor, if you’re not concerned because we have just six people left who know what they’re doing, then you’re a lot dumber than I think you are.
We’d better bring the fun back to volunteering before the place burns down and somebody dies. Is that what it will take before the Fire Board does what’s really best for Allenspark? Sandy Hume is right. We can’t operate without volunteers and at the moment people with decades of local firefighting experience have decided they’re not having fun any more and have gone home. The rest may do so at any moment.
The only entity that can solve this problem is the Fire Board. They have some choices to make and leadership to demonstrate. If they can’t do it, then they should resign and let someone else try to pull this community together on this very important issue.
© 1985 – 2003, David E. Steiner
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