Written by John Grosskopf, Fire Chief, Beaver Volunteer Fire Department
According to the National Volunteer Fire Council, since the early 1980’s, the total number of volunteer firefighters in the United States has declined by 12.5percent. During the same period the population has increased steadily, the number of emergency calls has increased rapidly, and the training requirements for volunteers has expanded dramatically. Many volunteer departments are facing a huge and looming problem, simply because they are unable to attract and retain the number of volunteers that are needed in the coming years.
While some blame the increased training demands as taking too much time and effort, others point to modern family life and other real world demands as the major deterrents as to joining and staying. Others look at the time that must be devoted to fund raising as a disincentive, new recruits join because they want to fight fires, not raise money. Older members, who have worked hard to build the volunteer organization, often have a deeper appreciation of the need for a steady source of funding to improve fire protection in a community. The never-ending cycle of raising money can either keep volunteers tied very closely to their department or drive them away.
The other huge and increasing demand on volunteers is for training time. The time spent on the fire ground or the emergency scene is minor in comparison the commitment each volunteer must make to attend classes and training sessions to acquire and retain the required certifications. While most volunteers love to learn and practice the skills of the trade, more and more are having difficulty finding the time to attend all the required training at the time and place they are offered.
Retention of volunteers has become a major concern in many areas, particularly as the demand of raising a young family often requires two incomes and the fire must complete with every other family priority. It has become popular in some areas to offer small incentives to volunteer firefighters, such as special reductions in state or local taxes or length of service award programs that provide a small “pension” to a volunteer for after many years of service to the community. While the benefits of these programs are usually very small, the symbolic recognition of an individual service is often as important as the monetary value.
When community leaders look at the tremendous donation of time, effort and commitment that is given to the public by volunteer firefighters, particularly compared with the cost of replacing them with fully paid employees, the cost efforts to support and retain volunteers is easily justified. While it is evident that virtually all volunteer firefighters serve because they truly want to be volunteer firefighters, anything that can be done to make volunteering easier and more attractive is a good investment.
If you are interested in helping protect your community and would like to be part of a team steeped in over 180 years of tradition, we encourage you to join us. We meet every Monday of the month at our station and challenge you to make a difference.