Ask just about anyone who volunteers with any number of civic minded organizations why and the answer is likely to include comments about getting more out of it in terms of personal satisfaction than what is put into it, wanting to give back to the community, feeling like it's important to make a positive difference and so on.
This is true of just about everyone who coaches a youth team, organizes a highway cleanup crew, helps out at the animal shelter, works with a youth organization or joins the volunteer fire service.
Similarly, there is often a strong feeling of being called to duty among those who join the nation's defense forces.
That's possibly why it was so shocking a few weeks back when comments were posted on Facebook, a rather public forum, by members of the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company who expressed dissatisfaction at not being offered a discount when they visited the Sonic restaurant at the south end of Bel Air.
The comments, whether made cavalierly in jest or because they reflected a true feeling of entitlement, were supremely insulting to anyone who has offered to help out by volunteering their time to better their communities. Adding to that insult was a comment that possibly firefighters not respond to emergencies at the eatery or, worse yet, actually set a fire in the trash bin at the business.
Often in a situation where an individual acts in a way that disgraces a larger group, many or even most members of that group are the ones most outraged by the disgraceful behavior. Given the level of dedication of members of the volunteer fire service in Harford County, who not only respond to calls at all hours, but also log hundreds of training hours to qualify to go out on those calls, there's reason to believe the suspensions and demotions levied against the offenders are regarded by most as deserved and reasonable.
Time will tell. The local volunteer fire companies are democratic organizations and the Bel Air chief, Eddie Hopkins, who acted swiftly and decisively in this situation, sooner or later will be the subject of a vote of the fire company membership should he want to stay in office.
On the whole, the decisive action taken to date by Hopkins means the irritation about this situation is likely to fade relatively soon. Other larger issues regarding the management, public funding and county oversight of the volunteer fire and ambulance service will, however, remain, as they should. These issues have existed — in some cases have been festering — for years.
It's worth remembering, however, that the volunteer fire service, like all volunteer civic organizations, grew out of a desire to improve the community, not from a desire to get a free burger or a public pat on the back.