Wannabees in ARES? One should be careful.

The Engineering Web

Are volunteer emergency groups revelant?

Looking around the web reveals some interesting looks of amateur radio operators (and other volunteer radio operators) who seem to enjoy looking like police and/or fire fighters/EMS folks. To be sure it is important for volunteers providing a specific ability to be visible to those in charge of the scene. However, every group has its lunatic fringe with additional motives.

So where does one draw the line between helpful volunteer and hopeless wannabe.

You might be a wannabee if:

  • Your incident clothing has a white, blue, gray or black shirt.
  • You wear any kind of badge that looks like a shield.
  • You wear any kind of shoulder patch.
  • You have Epaulettes.
  • You wear a dayglow yellow or orange traffic vest.
  • You think you have a right to cross police and fire lines without permission of the officer in charge.
  • You carry more than two radios.
  • Anyone can mistake you for police, paid or volunteer fire fighter/EMS personnel.
  • You think your services must be used simply because you are there.
  • You look like this

Time and time again I see folks who are "volunteering" just to be in a uniform so they can think they are something they are clearly not. Trust me, the uniformed services are offended by anyone pretending to be them.

An effective volunteer comes with a crisp neat appearance without anything that would make anyone think, even for a moment, they are a cop or firefighter or bum with a radio.

When you role up to an incident commander you want his/her first impression of you to be...

"Hey this fellow/gal is offering his/her services, not pushing them, and he/she does not look like a loser geek wannabe. I appreciate that. The dress slacks, shirt and tie tell me this person is a professional with a real life and is here offer, not push, services, because he/she does not have to be here. I will introduce myself and see if we can use the extra help."
"Good Lord... who is this unshaven character demanding a minute of my time. Why does he have a bandolier of two-way radios; Can he possibly listen to all that? The shoulder patch shirt with the orange vest just screams wannabe.' I need volunteers who know their place, not this."

I suppose there is a fine line on the wearing of dayglow vests. It comes down to this. The only purpose of a traffic vest is if you are in traffic. If you are a radio volunteer in traffic you are quite likely in a situation who do not belong in. See the problem? Leave the in-the-traffic situations to police/fire/EMS who are trained and insured to be in just such situations.

We, as radio operators, should bring our RF communication skills and nothing more to the situation at hand. We don't need traffic vests to operate radios. We don't need vests to identify ourselves that we are communicators - a hat will do.

If you are preparing to assist some event you should carefully study the many documents available from the ARRL. Then you should ask yourself these questions:

  • Will this radio operate for the time needed?
  • Do I need to bring spare batteries (or battery packs)?
  • Will my body be able to walk the distance needed if I am tasked as radio person in one of many search groups?
  • Is the antenna I have proper for the task at hand. (big whips on HTs have gain, but less beam-width vertically)?
  • If I am tasked inside a building do I have a convenient external antenna for my radio?
  • Is my primary reason for being here to provide my services if needed and withdraw graciously if not?

Effective volunteering is doing what folks need you to do, not what you think they need. Starting off on the right foot and being properly prepared when called will foster good relations with the emergency folks who will see you as an asset as needed.


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