CAMBRIDGE, Md. — The physical demands of firefighting, coupled with the time it takes to maintain active status, mean that bringing new members into the Rescue Fire Co. isn’t getting easier.
“We’re always looking for help,” RFC Chief Adam Pritchett said Friday.
RFC is located in Cambridge, a town whose population is about 12,000 — but its responsibilities extend throughout Dorchester County, depending on the nature of the emergency. With annual calls approaching 1,000, firefighting and general emergency response duties require staffing levels that are hard to meet.
For instance, RFC operates the county’s only dive team, not a simple crew to recruit or train. Add to that all the “cat in a tree” calls, as Chief Pritchett put it, and there is a lot of work to do for a volunteer agency.
“Our biggest problem is it takes a lot of time to train,” the chief said. “We have to train to be ready for that one big call.”
For a firefighter to keep his or her active status, classes have to be attended and passed, something a busy young parent might not be able to handle.
While staffing and training are part of the recruitment and retention issue, physical condition is another. Many members of RFC, as in other fire departments, are middle-aged and beyond, Chief Pritchett said.
Hauling a hose up three flights of stairs or battling a blaze in the summer while decked out in heavy turnout gear is enough to put great strain on a fit, young person, all the more so on someone who could be a grandparent. A crew in the midst of an emergency would not want to have one of their own members go down under the stress and physical demands of the job, the chief added. So RFC has instituted annual physical exams to be sure that its men and women are capable of dealing with incidents.
Results of the exam might be disappointing for someone who has spent decades as a volunteer and sees much of his identity in the work. “It’s a hard thing to tell some of these people,” Chief Pritchett said.
But even that situation can lead to other opportunities. “There’s always something for people to do,” he said.
Whether as the result of an unfavorable exam or not, members can stay, or join in the first place, with no intention of riding a truck. Fundraising, for example, is critical to the function of volunteer fire companies, Chief Pritchett added, and it took a big hit during the pandemic.