Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Firefighter is to Teacher as...

My morning commute takes me past a volunteer fire station. It's a place we've come to know well in recent years as we've taken our daughters there for the open house during Fire Safety Week and to a pancake breakfast with Santa each December. One of our neighbors drives an ambulance for the station.

There have also been a number of firefighters in the periphery of my life for many years. A family friend was lucky enough to be on duty one evening to answer a call at our home after a minor bathroom fire. His son, a boy I babysat as a teen, is now a firefighter. One nephew of ours is trained as a firefighter, although I don't think he is actually doing that work at the moment.

For the reasons above or for reasons I don't understand, I've been thinking a lot about volunteer and career firefighters. After a bit of research I've learned that often they have the exact same level of training.

Now I have more questions than I had before. Why do we as a society need volunteer firefighters? We don't have volunteer police officers. What would it cost us to have all career firefighters? Are there reasons other than financial that explain all of the volunteer fire stations across the country?

Of course, I can't help but compare this to education. Volunteer firefighters have the same level of training as career firefighters. They may not get paid for the job but they are still expected to be fully competent to do it. The analogy to groups like Teach for America seems obvious to me. Not only do those teachers not have the same level of training as career teachers, they also cost their school districts more because of the costs involved with Teach for America. Why is it possible to require full training for volunteer firefighters but not for teachers?


emet said...

I am not sure I get the analogy. TFA affiliated teachers are not volunteers, they are paid by districts just like any other teacher according to the district’s pay scale. They also become certified through alternative licensure programs so I would say that they are as "qualified" as any other teacher, whatever state certification means in terms of qualification.

As for the volunteer aspect of firefighters, I think it is great that people still feel called to serve their communities as volunteers and I am not sure why as a society we would want to crowd out these volunteers with career fire fighters if they are so willing to provide the service, especially if they are as well trained and capable as their career counterparts. It seems that the reasons we have volunteer firefighter is that they are getting something out of this volunteering that makes it "worth it" to them.

Jenny said...

Emet, Thanks for the thoughts. This was not nearly a full-fledged thought of mine and I am truly grateful for the push to think more about it.

I think the fact that TFA affiliated teachers are not volunteers makes the situation worse in my mind. We wouldn't allow firefighters out there with minimal training and then finish that training over the next two years. We require that they be fully trained before they begin. Why don't we ask that of teachers as well?

I'm quite grateful for volunteer firefighters. My concerns about them are not about them but about what we prioritize and value as a society. Do we not value firefighters enough to fund them at the level we need? Is that a sign of our priorities?

PamelaTrounstine said...

I had always heard that what makes TFA so attractive to districts is that the TFA teachers salaries are paid, the district only has to come up with the benefits portion, which is what makes them so attractive to school districts. When I consider the personal cost to me for my credential in my state-- what high expectations are might be up for debate but I can tell you I paid for 52 units just for the credential-- I find it unfair. I suppose I could have gone the TFA route, I'm young enough, but with a mom as a teacher, I wan't buying the "separate but equal" pitch TFA promotes.

I think about volunteer firefighters.... they do an incredible job, and I wouldn't want to push them out of anything, but as a volunteer the physical hazards of the job are entirely shouldered by the volunteer. As in, they have to get their own health insurance from something else, or risk personal expenses for injury on the job, and the extra-expensive premiums for life insurance to make sure if the worst happened, their families were taken care of.

Jenny said...

Pamela, I'm not convinced there is ever a time when the 'separate but equal' argument is accurate. I completely agree that it certainly isn't here. It's interesting to see that your mom being a teacher was a factor in your feelings about this. I wonder how things would be different if everyone (or at least more people) knew a teacher well enough to truly understand the job.