Va. officials worried as volunteers thin
Following national trends, Roanoke County is trying to reverse the continual loss of volunteer firefighters
By EMS1 Staff
ROANOKE COUNTY, Va. — Va. county officials are worried as regional volunteer first responders are on the decline.
National data shows that squads today answer twice as many calls as squads did in the 1980s and the average volunteer leaves the service after less than five years, according to the Roanoke Times.
Franklin County's public safety chief of operations Billy Ferguson said that there is a lack of qualified people to take over where current volunteers leave off.
"We've got a great first string, but there's nobody on the bench," Ferguson said. "It's not just getting living, breathing bodies. It's getting living, breathing, qualified folks."
Experts say that about 70 percent of the nation's firefighters belong to volunteer companies. Nationwide, volunteers are leaving in droves, outnumbering any reserves of new recruits.
The Roanoke Times reported on the study by the National Volunteer Fire Council, which found that since 1984, the number of volunteer firefighters has dropped by 14 percent while the number of calls has more than doubled, compounded with a rise in required training for volunteers.
Va. fire stations are experiencing the same national trend. In 2011, 77 percent of Roanoke County's calls were filled by other stations. Full-time Roanoke city personnel only answer 13 percent of those calls.
Response times have also suffered, with responders only meeting its goal of lowering its response times to be within six minutes 46 percent of the time.
Even training is making the problem worse. As technology advances, so do required hours of training, consequently forcing firefighters to leave the force in search of other work.
Currently, Roanoke County is using a FEMA grant to conduct a study on how to reverse the trends of volunteer firefighter loss and is spearheading a marketing campaign to recruit and retain firefighters more effectively.