Denied a volunteer oppportunity
June 9, 2021 5:27 AM   Subscribe

I recently applied to our local Volunteer Rescue Squad. This has always been an interest of mine, and the time felt right given my career status and family situation. I have several certifications including Wilderness First Responder, a clean record, and sterling references. My facebook profile is private and I don't have other social media presence. Yet my application was just denied.

I am baffled as to why, but I suspect it has to do with my political affiliations. I live in a relatively small and very conservative city, and I am known to the local cops as something of a rabble rouser (although I have not had any trouble with the law beyond a class c misdemeanor for nonviolent direct action decades ago).

I suppose it's possible I am too old, or they have some other quota to meet, or maybe they have plenty of trained first responders willing to volunteer to pull injured people out of cars. But really I am extremely curious to know why I was denied, and if it is political, well, that just seems unAmerican.

What are my options?
posted by natteringnabob to Law & Government (9 answers total)
Well, no one owes you a volunteer opportunity. I'd look for other ways you can help. Other agencies.

Once when I was a teen I tried to volunteer with making phone calls to elderly folks. My volunteer lady "fired" me because I was too young.

Also be careful of choosing to be the arbiter of what is and isn't American. A old left-wing rabble-rouser being denied the opportunity to engage with vulnerable populations is... I guess one definition of being un-American. But some folks might say it's actually pretty on brand for American. Depends on who you ask.

Look for opportunities that welcome your political affiliations. They exist.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 5:38 AM on June 9 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you’re willing to look in other communities, some departments will accept members who live outside the territory with the expectation that they will pull duty time at the station.
Fire/EMS/rescue can be very very political (and I don’t mean affiliations; I’ve been the token CommiePinkoSocialist at every department I’ve been affiliated with and it’s accepted because I’m good at my job), and often with wholly volunteer entities it might be who you know, and how many times you apply. Some departments would turn you away and make you apply again, sometimes several times, to ensure you wanted to be a part of the organization.
Did you use any references of people who are currently first responders? You have WFR; that’s great, but do you have EMR or EMT? Any of your technical rescue classes? Do you have an understanding of what type of commitment it will take to acquire these certifications, if required?
Please don’t think I’m being harsh; there is a role for everyone in rescue, but we have to find the organization that is a complement to us as individuals and vice versa.
posted by sara is disenchanted at 5:45 AM on June 9 [7 favorites]

Have you asked them? In a polite, non-confrontational way, a la "Are you able to offer any feedback on my application? It would be really useful to me to understand how I can improve future applications to other organisations for volunteer opportunities".

If it was a political thing, I guess they probably won't tell you, but if they just have plenty of volunteers already or happened to receive a slew of volunteers with more useful experience/qualifications, they might.
posted by penguin pie at 5:50 AM on June 9 [24 favorites]

Lots of small towns -- or "small-feeling" towns -- end up with family members and friends on the volunteer crews. They may just have added a cousin/friend/buddy's kid to the crew before you, or might be holding a place open for such a person. *shrug* It isn't perfectly egalitarian, but it sure is common!

Also, are you quite certain that there is a vacancy? They may not need anyone right now. I totally agree with penguin pie that it shouldn't be out-of-bounds to politely ask, "Could you share anything about my application that might help me with pursuing similar positions elsewhere in the future?" If they blow you off then it was a weak reason; if you get useful feedback, then you'll benefit -- and have some understanding of what went down.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:58 AM on June 9

I have some affiliation with our local volunteer fire department. They usually have more applicants than slots. The reason the number of slots are limited is because of the amount of training required, which is considerable. It's not clear what the application process was here, but they only accept applicants during specific times of year, so that each "class" can train together. Rejections during normal application times are often based on schedule and/or current training level, but I could imagine someone in the leadership seeing a particular name and saying "No way, they're a total pain in the ass." Your self-description as a "rabble rouser" could be a ding even if it's not explicitly political, but it's entirely possible for it to be that they picked folks who already has EMT training, or availability during the work day, or what have you.
posted by tchemgrrl at 7:29 AM on June 9 [2 favorites]

I am a town board member in a community that has twelve volunteer Fire Departments. Yes, twelve. As an outsider, I can nth the idea that they can be very much a clique. Some VFD's are dominated by a group of families. I've heard things along the line of "My grandpa was Chief here, my Dad was Chief here and one day I'm going to be Chief here" several times. If you are not seen as part of the group, you may have been rejected on that basis alone.

I also agree that VFD's favor people who live in the area/district they serve.

Still, folks with skills are needed. Apply to other groups.
posted by Colonel Sun at 7:41 AM on June 9

EMS/Fire/Rescue/police organizations can be pretty insular and the volunteer positions can be very competitive because they're used as jumping off points to get careers in those areas. Like EMS as a career is a bit easier to get into but trying to get a paid position in a fire department is pretty hard and getting some kind of rescue experience is basically required. That means you could be up against young, very fit (not questioning your fitness, but age could be a thing) applicants who have advanced certs and are training and networking in these areas. I echo the person asking if you have EMS or EMT training--that would be a pretty common cert for someone trying to get into one of these organizations, even as a volunteer.
posted by schroedinger at 9:15 AM on June 9 [2 favorites]

You could consider old-fashioned networking. If there's a cookout fundraiser or something, that's a way to meet the people there, let them get to know you, and let them see that you're good to spend time with and dependable/focused/passionate/whatever.

Also: if you can be positive and diplomatic, maaaybe you could send them a note asking how you can be a better candidate in the future, or if they have suggestions for how you can focus your interest in other ways. This leaves an opening for them to suggest you do non-Rescue Squad things if they think you're maybe not a good fit, or to suggest volunteering for another squad, or to say how competitive it was/how many people applied, etc.

I'm not going to assume they have their communication game on point, so asking questions -- in a smart way -- could yield good results.
posted by amtho at 11:01 AM on June 9

That said, 'rabble rouser' implies 'makes rash decisions', which might be the opposite of what a good emergency responder needs to do.
posted by amtho at 11:02 AM on June 9

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