Volunteer shortage leading to struggling fire departments nationwide

Imagine calling the fire department, but no one answers the phone. With a lack of volunteers, this could become a reality.
Published: Mar. 7, 2023 at 6:22 PM CST
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SLOCOMB, Ala. (WTVY) - Imagine calling the fire department, and nobody answers the phone, leaving your home to be caught in a blaze.

While many fire departments are currently active, it is mainly because people are willing to volunteer their time.

According to the United States Fire Administration, 78% of fire departments in the state of Alabama are completely volunteer-based.

In Slocomb, there are a few paid positions at the fire station, but most are serving for free.

“We rely on those volunteers to respond especially to structure fires and serious motor vehicle accidents because it requires so much more manpower to allow those incidents to be managed safely,” said Kyle Hovey, Slocomb fire chief.

This isn’t just an Alabama issue; this is a nationwide problem. 85% of fire stations throughout the US are majority volunteers.

There are many restrictions that keep departments from allowing certain volunteers. Some of these restrictions are due to physical constraints.

“There’s a large number of training requirements that obviously they have to have, so they can perform the service when they are out on the streets,” said Hovey. “We want to make sure they are trained and they have the self confidence that they know in their heart, they can do the job and properly take care of the people in that accident or the victim of a housefire.”

Many stations also struggle to find volunteers who are willing to sacrifice so much time to the department for free.

“With the time management these days, people having to work two or three jobs to make ends meet, it’s understandably hard for people to find time to volunteer,” said Hovey. “We understand that totally.”

While many stations are up and moving now, Chief Hovey says it is time for a change.

“The tax structure right now is not set up to fund paid firefighters and EMTs in most towns, but due to this critical volunteer shortage, our elected officials do need to look at and consider future funding sources to make that happen,” said Hovey.

Geneva County is planning to host a meeting May 4 to discuss the funding for public safety throughout the county.

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