In a volunteer fire department, you have members at all ages. The problem is, fire departments have to start worrying about legal & liability concerns with older firefighters. Volunteer firefighters become “firefighters” at different stages in their lives. A lot of volunteer departments depend on the retirees who know have the time and devotion to put in. Volunteers grow and become a huge part of the organization and never want to leave as an active firefighter, even when they become old. When does it become necessary for the department and chief to tell their firefighters they can no longer respond? How do you approach it?
It has started to become a legal concern in modern day with older firefighters being on the fire ground. It is easy for a volunteer department to have 50% of its members above the age of fifty, with the majority being over the age of 65. When we get over 60 our bodies are not as strong & endurance diminishes. At theses ages the chance for heart attack and other health issues are more prevalent, becoming a big concern of liability & insurance factors for volunteer departments. Making paid departments advantageous for being able to hire young adults & to make firefighting a career for them. Where they too will retire & possibly move to their retirement dream location (… & possibly become a volunteer).
Don’t get me wrong, most firefighters know when they have become to old to firefight & retire out. But, there is always a few that never want to retire. If a severe injury or death was to occur with any firefighter, at any age, OSHA and other agencies are in the department office ASAP checking paper work and certifications. When it happens to an older firefighter they than begin to question the officers for allowing an older firefighter to be on scene.
So is the department supposed to set policy with once you hit an age you can no longer be an active firefighter? At what age would that be. Not all people age the same. Not to mention I feel safe having my older firefighters on scene. No, I would never choose them to be on the initial attack. Rather use their value to oversee things & guide younger firefighters. They know the apparatus & equipment through their years of experience. There is document procedures to cover fire departments such as physicals. As long as they keeping passing them, they can still firefight. Would physicals even be enough?
What needs to happen is when they hit that golden age, they need to be asked to step back in responsibilities but encouraged to still show up at trainings and events to pass their knowledge down to the rookies. They are what keeps the circles of life in the department continue on, as they pass their responsibilities down to another.
So I ask you. What would you recommend? Does your department have an age policy? How would you go about in relieving their duties?