Ocean Pines, like many communities in this and other areas, might as well accept the idea and prepare for the eventuality of an all-paid fire and rescue service.
Unless towns and communities revert to a way of thinking that has faded over the last 20 years, it’s going to happen at some point, as the number of people willing to commit to volunteer service is dwindling.
This isn’t a problem specific to Ocean Pines, it’s a national situation for a variety of reasons, including the continuing disappearance of small-town culture.
The sense of community that made joining the local volunteer company a matter of tradition and pride isn’t what it used to be, as fewer people work where they live and fewer of their children remain in their hometowns once they come of age.
Homeowners associations face the same situation, except many of them haven’t existed long enough to benefit from the generational tradition that once provided towns and villages a steady supply of new volunteers.
Volunteer recruiting and retention efforts are further hampered by the time and training requirements. Time was, a volunteer could get a few hours of training, put on the gear and learn on the job. Now, recruits must take hundreds of hours of training because of state and federal safety regulations, and then remain up to speed throughout their service.
Having to split time between fire company responsibilities and other commitments also causes prospective recruits to shy away, or leave a department when life circumstances change.
Being a volunteer may be rewarding, but it isn’t easy, and it seems fewer people are willing to give up their time in exchange for a such a demanding challenge. It’s also doubtful that the people who benefit from these services understand or appreciate what volunteers must do and how much money they save the public.
They’re going to find out one of these days, and they’re not going to like it. But it’s going to happen, like it or not.