There’s no doubt that offering a drill team is a great way to recruit new members to a volunteer fire department and keep current ones happy.
The events include hose, ladder and bucket contests. Then there are the motorized races with some vehicles resembling Formula One dragsters.
This offers firefighters an opportunity to bond with their colleagues and socialize with members of opposing teams. The competitions are great fun for these fire service professionals and their families.
But given the financial strains that many rural fire departments confront today, funding a drill team cannot be a high priority. The Copenhagen Volunteer Fire Department found this out the hard way last year when the Village Board of Trustees opted to eliminate the department’s drill team, known as the Cubs.
Fire Chief Jim Henry recently submitted a letter to village trustees asking that the drill team be reinstated. During their meeting June 27, board members again chose to withhold such funding.
The primary factor driving the board’s decision in September not to fund a drill team was “the high cost of workers’ compensation cases resulting from past injuries,” according to a story published June 28 by the Watertown Daily Times. And when Mayor Kenneth Clark asked for a motion two weeks ago to reconsider the matter, no trustee offered one.
Advocates have promoted firematic events as good ways to keep firefighters prepared to perform their jobs. On its website, the Firefighting Drill Association of New York declares this:
“NYS Drill Teams is a professional league of volunteer firefighters from across NY state who compete in firematic competitions. These competitions are geared towards honing basic firefighting proficiencies, developing and fostering teamwork, character-building, commitment, discipline, physical fitness and conditioning. Participation in the league complements each fire department’s primary function of emergency response to fires, medical emergencies and other calamities while instilling members with a lifelong commitment to serving their community as highly skilled volunteer firefighters.”
There is truth to this statement. Drill team competitions can strengthen bonds between firefighters while testing their physical fitness.
But some of the organization’s claims run a tad thin when it comes to credibility.
One drill team contest involves firefighters standing on a ladder passing up canvass buckets of water to fill a barrel on top. Another has firefighters pulling a cart while dropping a hose onto the ground. And then there are the aforementioned motorized races, using both single-seat cars and pickup trucks.
These events make for great theatrics and are a lot of fun for participants. But what modern day industry skills are being honed by handing canvass buckets filled with water to someone standing higher on a ladder? And how often do firefighters need to beat other vehicles to a designated point on a roadway?
It’s true that many aspects of firefighting involve speed and precision. However, the most crucial tasks depend on prudent decision-making. Firefighters need to effectively assess the situation they’re confronting at the scene of an emergency so they can figure out how to save the lives of those affected.
Members of the Copenhagen Volunteer Fire Department are considering a way to provide their own workers’ compensation insurance rather than use the policy offered by Lewis County. If they can afford this, they may be able to save their drill team.
Village trustees in Copenhagen, though, made the appropriate decision. With government budgets facing many challenges these days, non-essential activities must be cut.