In 1957 the Oregon Volunteer Firemans' Association was organized, offering an annual conference for its membership to train and network. These conferences were held in conjunction with the Oregon Fire Chiefs' and Oregon Fire District Directors' Annual Conference and were the only opportunity for many of the state's firefighters to meet and obtain training.
In 1976 the Association's name was changed to Oregon Volunteer Firefighters Association. The membership at this time also decided to hold its own conference independent of the Oregon Fire Chiefs. This first, stand-alone OVFA conference was held in Hood River in 1979. In 1981, OVFA begin the difficult task of creating a Length of Service Award Program (LOSAP). The program allowed for public agencies to create a retirement fund for volunteer firefighters to assist in recruitment and retention of members. Repeated attempts through the legislature failed because of funding issues. A plan was created in 1993 that did not use state funds and therefore did not need state legislative approval. This concept finally prevailed, and Oregon was one of the first states in the country to create such a program.
In 1998 the Volunteer Ambulance Association made the decision to disband and transfer their association funds over to the OVFA. Since that time, the OVFA has included the volunteer ambulance providers within the membership, and the mission has broadened to include "Emergency Medical Service Providers" within the term "Firefighters."
In 2000, the OVFA joined a national recruitment project called the 1-800-FIRELINE program. This program was developed by the National Volunteer Firefighter Council and allows citizens interested in becoming volunteers to call a toll free, nationally recognized phone number to request information and referral to an appropriate response agency. National corporations support this program.
The principal focus of the Association and the Executive Board is to represent and support volunteer emergency responders in the State of Oregon. This mission has expanded to include the offering of disability insurance, grant programs, educational opportunities outside of the annual conference, and legislative representation. The Executive Board is elected at the annual conference each year and serves as the governing body of OVFA. It includes the President, 1st and 2nd Vice Presidents, Past President, Secretary/Treasurer, two Directors and Ambassadors as appointed by the Board.
Today OVFA is stronger then ever, attending allied association meetings and conferences, working jointly on legislative issues, and making itself more accessible to the membership. Well-supported and administered programs are currently in place to assist Volunteers and their agencies:
• 1-800-FIRELINE: Established by the National Volunteer Firefighter Council and implemented by AT&T, this toll-free number is used in nearly every state as a recognizable way to get local information about emergency service volunteerism and the state volunteer association.
• Accidental Death & Disability Insurance: OVFA provided AD&D benefits to all members in late 2002. The cost of this coverage will be included in the amount of dues paid by each member agency, based on the number of volunteers reported at the time of membership renewal.
• Legislative Representation: OVFA pursues a proactive legislative agenda in conjunction with the Oregon Fire Chiefs' Association and the Oregon Fire District Directors Association. Through a professional Governmental Affairs Representative, legislative issues that relate to Volunteer Emergency Services continue to be sponsored and monitored.
• Surplus Equipment: This program provides a collection, storage and distribution system for surplus emergency response equipment.
• Grant Program: Grants for fire prevention, training, and small equipment will be made available on an annual basis. The focus of these grants will be for cooperative training to serve populations of less than 5,000.
• Bob Shepard Memorial Scholarship: This award was established to assist a recipient in the 2nd, 3rd or 4th year of study for a degree in the Fire Science/EMS field. Not to exceed $1,000, the scholarship is awarded each academic year to a selected full-time student and is restricted to tuition and/or required textbooks. Currently suspended due to lack of funds.
•Educational Grants: An educational grant program will be developed for OVFA members and/or immediate family members to be used for higher education, not necessarily in the emergency response area. Currently suspended due to lack of funds.
• Oregon Burn Center Sponsorship: The proceeds of the OVFA conference raffle and silent auction are awarded to the Oregon Burn Center at Emanuel Hospital in Portland to assist with funding for Childrens' Burn Camp.
There are a number of issues facing OVFA and emergency services as a group: funding, legislation requirements without adequate funding, and the time required for individuals to continue to volunteer. This is an issue foremost on the minds of fire administrators, as local tax revenues are not adequate to allow for ample paid staff. Time demands placed on volunteers, both within their agency and outside, are being felt nationwide.
OVFA is working on the issue of recruitment and retention in conjunction with representatives from all the fire service organizations in Oregon, through a legislative taskforce charged with exploring and identifying possible solutions.
OVFA will continue to grow and represent its membership through good communication, working with allied associations, and support from the citizens of Oregon.