Giving Compass’ Take:
• Katherine Barrett and Richard Greene report that shortages of volunteer firefighters are causing stress and closures of fire stations across the country.
• Is it sustainable for departments to rely on volunteers? How can funders work to ensure the firefighters and other essential personnel are appropriately compensated to ensure stability?
• Find out what makes a good employer.
When Jeff Cash became a volunteer firefighter 40 years ago, fire departments often kept waiting lists of people looking to join up. Those were the good old days. Cash is now chief of the Cherryville, N.C., fire department and bemoans the challenge of keeping volunteer slots filled.
“Volunteers are not easy to get,” he says. “And they’re difficult to retain. The baby boomers are aging out, and the newer generation doesn’t have that sticking power that the generations did before.”
In the last two years, the number of volunteer firefighters in North Carolina dropped by about 1,200 — a roughly 22 percent decline, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Like other fire chiefs in the state, Cash is constantly recruiting volunteers. He runs a junior firefighter program that taps students as young as 14 to help with nonhazardous tasks. More recently, he’s been trying to figure out how to encourage more women and minorities to join a field that’s historically been dominated by white males.
North Carolina is not alone. Many states face similar shortages.
In Pennsylvania, where Benjamin Franklin started the nation’s first volunteer fire company in 1736, the number of volunteer firefighters declined from 300,000 in the 1970s to 38,000 in 2018, according to the Pennsylvania Fire and Emergency Services Institute.
The loss has already forced some departments to reduce their services, diminishing the effectiveness of their emergency response.
Read the full article about volunteer firefighters by Katherine Barrett and Richard Greene at Governing Magazine.
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