Volunteer Firefighter Shortage Concerns Local Departments

Volunteer Fire Departments Seek More Assistance

On call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, volunteer firefighters are continually prepared to respond to emergencies, including structure fires, wildland fires, vehicle accidents, utility calls (downed power lines/gas leaks), and medical calls. Volunteer firefighters also play a significant role in educating the community in fire safety. In recent years, a shortage of volunteers has local departments concerned about the future.

“The shortage of Volunteer Firefighters is a concern in Central Wisconsin and throughout the nation,” said Josh Sabo, Deputy Chief of Richfield Rural Fire Department. “To compensate for the shortage, departments are relying more and more on their neighboring fire departments to provide mutual aid so that there is adequate personnel on the scene of an emergency.”

He attributes the decline to today’s busier world and to many places of employment not allowing employees to leave work to respond to calls, resulting in a greater shortage during the day.

“People are busy and it takes a lot of commitment to become a volunteer firefighter,” he said. “People are just busier in today’s world and there are more things competing for someone’s time: sports, continuing one’s education, etc.”

To become a volunteer firefighter, an individual must complete 96 hours of training and certification. To become a Emergency Medical Responder requires 49+ hours of training and certification.

“The requirements to become a volunteer firefighter have increased over the years,” said Sabo. “While this is a good thing in regards to firefighter safety, it often discourages many people when you tell them you have 96 hours of training ahead of you and also need to attend one meeting and one training per month for the fire department.”

Richfield currently has 21 firefighters, 13 of which are also Emergency Medical Responders (also known as First Responders).

“If someone doesn’t think they want to do the fire portion, they can always join just as a EMR and respond to just medical calls,” said Sabo. “EMR’s respond along with Marshfield Ambulance to provide extra assistance and important first contact care for patients.”

Fire Auxiliary members are also needed to assist the department, and are called upon to provide resources to firefighters on the scene of a call, especially one of longer duration.

“They will bring in food and re-hydration supplies to make sure the Firefighters maintain their hydration and energy,” said Sabo. “Many times incidents take place during or around meal times and having these resources brought in is a huge aid to the fire department.”

No special training is required to be an auxiliary member, only a need to want to help out the fire department.

“I would encourage people to join a volunteer fire department because it is very rewarding,” said Sabo. “While some calls can be very stressful, it is still rewarding knowing that you were able to help someone in your community.”

With safety a primary priority for all fire departments, the shortage of volunteers is concerning. Though there is no current need to fear for public safety, for anyone considering volunteering this is an ideal time to join. New volunteers will join a team of some of the most dedicated individuals in the area.

“Volunteer Firefighters are some of the most committed people that I know,” said Sabo. “Many people forget that their Volunteer Firefighters in their community have lives outside of the fire department, but when the pager sounds they normally drop what they are doing and put their life on hold while they go help their neighbor in need. They may be leaving supper on the table, missing family events or getting woken up in the middle of the night, yet you will never hear them complain.”

“Volunteer Firefighters are some of the most committed and selfless people there are because they often put someone else’s needs over theirs,” he said.