Wanted: a few good men, women

This month we’ll take a break from my usual agronomy talk, but we are still in the realm of serving agriculture and our rural communities.

We need a few more good women and men. Of course, agriculture in general is an expanding and lucrative job market that is creating employment, but we are talking about something more altruistic with this job announcement.

Do we have a job for you. It’s an opportunity to do physically strenuous, dangerous work. Depending on your assignment, while you work, you will be wearing from 25 to 60 pounds of protective clothing and equipment. The work is done in any weather: hot, cold, rain, snow.

Hours you ask? No shift work here, we’ll call at any time of day or night, 24/7, with no advance notice.

Intense job orientation is mandatory; just to get started you will need 90 hours of classroom instruction and situational training evolutions. To keep your job, you will have to pass difficult agility, fitness and skills tests. You’ll have to pass a drug screening and a physical. Since this is an entry-level position, you will get to start at the bottom and literally take orders.

Once we get you on board, you will also have continuing education requirements to fulfill, 24 hours a year for now, likely to rise in the future. Compensation package? You are volunteering yourself for this job. You will be required to have the same skills and training as your big-city counterparts, but you won’t get their money, their benefits or their retirement.

Still interested? Good! Because while you may not get financially rich at this job, you’ll find it to be more rewarding than you can imagine. You will work side by side with teammates who share the same values as you — saving lives, saving property, and protecting the environment and personal safety. Even better news: You can keep your current job; most employers are pretty supportive of your “moonlighting.”

By now you have probably guessed we are recruiting emergency responders: firefighters, emergency medical technicians, hazardous materials technicians, paramedics and many other opportunities within the fire service.

For the purposes of this call to action, we’ll group all of these together under the umbrella of “the fire service,” even though in some jurisdictions fire and medical services may be separate entities.

Rural fire and rescue departments have always provided essential services to their communities. But methods have evolved, operative changes have occurred, and stereotypes have been shattered. What was once a male-dominated world is now wide open for women to join and take leadership roles.

Competitive grants, insurance requirements, training and fitness standards, and adherence to city, state and national codes mean that an unprecedented level of dedication and professionalism is required — more work, less play. It’s still incredibly fun and rewarding, just no “partying” going on.

A call to action needed

While large municipal fire departments are enjoying record numbers of applicants for their jobs, many smaller departments struggle to maintain their rosters. Rural communities are facing shifting demographics that are not beneficial to fire departments. With more people commuting longer distances to work, and many working longer hours or more than one job to make ends meet, fewer hours in the day are left for them to give to this extra job.

While it is difficult to find people who can qualify and sacrifice the time to be a firefighter, it is even more challenging to find emergency medical technicians. Again, stringent testing and a multitude of training and recertification hours make staffing small town and rural emergency medical units a huge challenge. We could use a few more good women and men.

The backbone of rural America, our local agriculture community, is in a great position to help out. Agribusinesses and related service providers are a good pool of potential firefighters and EMTs who are often within a workable proximity for an emergency response.

While the size and scope of farms continues to evolve, farmers and their employees are also in a great position to help out as well. Given the nature of many of our calls in rural areas, farm experience is a huge bonus for departments as well. Grain bin fires, grain entrapment, farm fertilizer and chemical spills, and field fires are just a few examples of incidents where an ag background can be a huge plus.

Even if you cannot commit your time to a job in the fire service, you can still give. Of course, funding is always needed for equipment and training, but there are other ways to help. For example, we can often use retired equipment and structures for training purposes. Learning CPR, donating blood or volunteering for organizations like the Red Cross can also be a way to give back to the community and save lives.

We need a few more good women and men; come check it out and, hopefully, you will be able and willing to answer the call.

McGrath is partnership program manager of Iowa State University’s Corn and Soybean Initiative. He is also a firefighter at Harlan.

This article published in the March, 2012 edition of WALLACES FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.