• 57°

Become a volunteer firefighter

We all support volunteer firefighters, as we should.

These are the people who give of their time freely to help us all when we need it the most. They respond to vehicle wrecks. They respond to medical emergencies. They respond as a courtesy to public events. They respond during natural disasters, often staying at the department so they can get to you quicker.

And, of course, they are there if we experience a fire.

But their numbers are dwindling.

It takes more than just signing up to be a volunteer. They have to be trained, and re-trained. Some complain about that training, but it is necessary. We want these people to know what they’re doing. But all of this takes time, something that most of us don’t have enough of.

In fact, the term “firefighter” is outdated because they do so much more.

There was a time when every business allowed volunteer firefighters to leave work to answer a call. Nowadays, businesses are not quite as generous, and they’re dozens of more calls.

Davie County is even considering a quarter cent sales tax to go to our volunteer fire departments and other emergency agencies. Voters will decide that tax in November.

According to FEMA, 72 percent of all firefighters in North Carolina – and that includes the paid ones employed by most larger  cities – are volunteers. And the annual decline of volunteer firefighters is 11-12 percent.

Many rural fire departments are staffed entirely by volunteers.

The N.C. Association of Fire Chiefs and the International Association of Fire Chiefs is launching a campaign in North Carolina to recruit volunteer firefighters. The campaign will include demographic studies to determine how to recruit new volunteers. Other workshops will focus on retaining current volunteers.

The following is from a news release sent out by the campaign.

“Being a volunteer is a rewarding experience and one of the best ways someone can make a difference in the community. It can be the first step to a career in the fire service as well as teach practical skills used throughout a recruit’s life. Volunteer firefighters make it possible for local communities to meet the demands of growing populations, density and a workforce that is aging out of the system.”

Imagine that you are a young parent, maybe you are, and your child chokes on something or is injured. If you had taken firefighting training, you would know what to do. That in itself should be enough for people to want to volunteer.

Although funding for rural fire departments is weak in some places, the lack of volunteers is statewide. Just sending the fire department a check will help with equipment and expenses, but it doesn’t put people in the trucks. And that’s what departments desperately need.

If unable to volunteer, promote becoming a volunteer. Promote your local departments. Invite them to come and give a presentation to your students, club, business or church group. Talk about firefighting when the situation arises. If you see a truck coming through your neighborhood, explain to your children the importance of these volunteers.

Or better yet, just visit your local fire department and see what you can do to help. They need it. We all need it.

– Mike Barnhardt