Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Rural fire departments continue to struggle to find enough firefighters

Rural fire departments have had difficulty finding rookie firefighters for the last few years, with the number of volunteers dropping 12 percent from 2005 to 2010. The latest report of the problem comes from Flathead County in northwest Montana. "We've got fewer volunteers, and yet the number of calls we get a year have nearly doubled," Somers/Lakeside Fire Chief Dave Hayes told Justin Franz of the Flathead Beacon. "When you show up to a major fire with only five or six people, it's tough to do our job safely."

Because of the economic downturn, many people have to work a second job and don't have time to volunteer at the fire department anymore. However, the number of emergency calls is increasing. In past years, Somers/Lakeside received 80 to 150 calls in a year, but this year they received more than 260 calls.

James Browser, the Marion Volunteer Fire Department chief and training coordinator for Flathead County Emergency Services, said all the volunteer departments in the Flathead Valley are struggling to find and keep firefighters. One reason: Training is becoming more involved than past years, as a result of more household items being made with plastics and chemicals, which make firefighting more complicated, Franz writes. Sometimes fire departments call for help from other communities, which can be effective, but can risk leaving those communities without necessary resources.

Browser said volunteering at a local fire department is not only a good way to assist the community but also a good steppingstone to becoming a career first-responder. Smith Valley Fire Chief D.C. Haas tries to attract new recruits that way. "For the younger individuals who are looking to make firefighting a career, volunteering at a local fire department can be a great way to get some experience under your belt before that first big interview," he told the Beacon. (Read more)

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