Volunteer firefighters used to number near 300,000 in Pennsylvania; today, it is estimated that only 50,000 remain engaged. Small mid-Michigan agencies are actively looking for volunteers to staff their departments although finding takers for available openings is reportedly becoming ever more difficult.
The fire service has traditionally relied on volunteers to staff many of the 33,000 fire departments across the United States. However, in recent years the numbers of people stepping forward and engaging has fallen precipitously.
CPSM Director Thomas Wieczorek will be representing the International City-County Management Association (ICMA) at a national forum looking for answers to the crisis of recruiting new volunteers. The forum will be held June 25-28 at the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburgh, Maryland and will bring together representatives from a broad spectrum who engage with fire services.
“We have seen some very good volunteer recruitment-retention efforts in the United States and Canada but overall, I would say the majority of communities that we have worked with are finding it more and more difficult to recruit, retain, and train volunteers,” Wieczorek said.
Volunteers must complete the same training as career, paid firefighters – usually 240 or more hours of basic education followed by driving, extrication, medical, and other specialties they may be called upon to perform in their departments. “A paramedic usually requires 1,000 hours of training followed by annual, ongoing requirements. When you look at those hours, add on a full-time job, and try to find life-time – it becomes difficult,” Wieczorek said.
From the national forum, documents related to the volunteer fire service and available through FEMA will be updated with best practices and ideas generated from the meeting. CPSM will make those documents available on its website.