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Have you ever heard of the Pareto principle? It is a principle/concept developed by Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto in 1906. It is also known as the “80/20 rule” and the “law of the vital few.” It is based upon the theory that 80 percent of the consequences come from 20 percent of the causes.
Pareto developed the concept to explain items as they related to the economy or to business. For example, 80 percent of production comes from 20 percent of the workers. Eighty percent of the taxes come from 20 percent of the population. Eighty percent of the land is owned by 20 percent of the people. You get the picture.
However, this principle can be applied to almost any set of circumstances or scenario with which we come into contact. It is not a hard and fast rule, but it is close. I believe it sometimes comes closer to 90/10.
You can also apply this to people with whom you come into contact. Eighty percent of the problems you face from people come from 20 percent of the people you meet. Eighty percent of the complaints you receive come from 20 percent of your customers. Eighty percent of the knowledge and understanding is researched and gained by only 20 percent of the people affected.
Given this understanding, let us apply this to situations we have in our communities. Whether you live in Equality, Goodwater, Rockford, Stewartville, or any other area, I bet you can apply this principle.
First, let’s look at our volunteer fire departments. We all want fire departments in our areas to provide fire protection and emergency response to all kinds of situations. Well at least 80 percent of us do; maybe 20 percent of us have no expectations or even think about it.
We expect the fire departments to have adequate equipment. We expect those departments to respond when we need them whether it is a fire, medical, or other emergency. No department in Coosa County is paid to provide these services, and we expect a lot from these volunteers.
However, I know of no Coosa County volunteer fire department with enough people and funds to accomplish all the things we expect of them. We expect them to be professionally trained. We expect them to have the correct equipment for all emergency circumstances, especially when that emergency affects us individually. We expect them to be there when we need them.
We expect and depend on less than 20 percent of the people supported by our fire departments to do all the work to maintain and operate them. From firefighters to board members to donors. Eighty percent of the people expect a lot from them, but only 20 percent, or less, step to the plate to donate their time, money, and/or effort.
When asked, most people say, “I have a full-time job and a family to support.” So do most of our fire departments’ volunteers.
Another reason for lack of participation is, “I pay my $30 fee every year to the revenue commissioner for the fire departments.” This $30 fee ($50 for businesses) collected by the revenue commissioner and provided to the fire departments barely pays the premiums for the insurances each fire department is required to maintain. Insurances for the buildings, trucks, equipment, liabilities, etc. These fees fall far short of providing for equipment purchases and maintenance, fuel, utilities, building maintenance, and training expenses.
Many people are under the false assumption our fire departments are supported by the county, are exempted from having to maintain adequate insurance and are protected from lawsuits. Although there is a law in Alabama called the Good Samaritan Law, it only provides limited protection to a firefighter when the firefighter is providing emergency medical treatment. That good Samaritan protection ends there.
Today, often the people who are being helped the most in an emergency by the volunteer fire department have no qualms about filing a lawsuit against the very people who are volunteering their time, money and effort to help or protect them.
People often believe a lawsuit does not affect the fire department, that it is only the insurance company who must pay. While the fire department may not have to directly pay a settlement on a lawsuit, the fire department will pay through increased insurance premiums and additional work for volunteer members.
In addition, volunteers who must go through a situation such as this will decide the frustration and emotional toll is just too great and stop volunteering their time and energy to help and protect us.
This could mean the complete loss of a local volunteer fire department. If that occurs, homeowners’ insurance premiums often increase drastically.
However, this is not the most expensive cost to a community. The greatest cost occurs when the community loses a citizen unnecessarily because a volunteer fire department does not exist. Or, when a home, multiple homes, or businesses are lost because there is no one to respond.
The Pareto principle not only applies to fire departments. Look around at your communities and see who is doing the work to support your community. Whether that work be the local food drop, food bank, meals-on-wheels, children’s club, youth sports’ programs, church operations, neighborhood watches, senior centers, and so on. The list is endless, and we have many of these in Coosa County.
Are you part of the 80 percent or the 20 percent? Do you expect others to carry the load for you? Are your expectations realistic?
If you are part of the 20 percent carrying the load, thank you so much for all you do for us. If you are part of the 80 percent, see if you can find a little time or money to donate to some volunteer organizations in your community.
If you cannot find a volunteer organization, maybe there are elderly persons who might benefit from you dropping by to check on them. Your visit could mean the world to them and will probably mean more than you will ever know.
Government cannot and should not do everything for us. We are the ones who make our communities successful. We are our communities. If we could reverse this principle and have 80 percent involved, imagine what we could accomplish in Coosa County.
Until next month; try to stay cool, stay safe, and try to make a difference in Coosa County!