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?