by Bob Fala, Outdoors Columnist
Volunteer Fire Departments across this country are struggling to survive. They are struggling financially, as well as recruiting, training, and retaining men and women who want to serve their communities.
With the increasing costs of fuel, utilities, workers' compensation, apparatus, and equipment, some volunteer fire departments are being forced to close their doors. We, here in Logan County, have been fortunate that the Fire/Ambulance Levy is passed by the citizens who recognize the need for these emergency services. The Logan County Commission has also been very good to help our departments. Unfortunately, the citizens of Mingo County have turned down the last attempt to obtain this much needed influx of money for emergency services in their county. I've seen how some Mingo County Volunteer Fire Departments are struggling to keep their doors open.
As we all know, the rising cost of fuel is not only harmful to our family budgets, but volunteer fire departments have to be concerned with keeping fuel in their trucks also. Most are diesel, which costs more per gallon than gasoline. Along with fuel costs for truck apparatus are insurance, tires, required tools and equipment, and maintenance.
Volunteer fire department buildings, out of necessity, have to be large enough and secure enough to house all of their equipment. Fire trucks with water on them cannot be left outside in sub-freezing weather. The cost to provide basic services like electricity, water, and gas for heating takes a huge toll on fire department budgets.
The costs of outfitting an individual firefighter have risen with inflation also. A complete set of bunker gear for firefighters can run well over $2,000.
A problem just as big as a financial one for fire departments is recruiting men and women who want to volunteer their time to serve their neighbors. As I've found out, it isn't easy to become a qualified firefighter. There are so many things you have to know as a firefighter to save lives and protect property. First Aid/CPR, emergency vehicle operations, hazardous material awareness/technician, auto extrication and search and rescue are just a few. Firefighters also have to become certified by taking an approved Firefighter I Class. This isn't easy for most volunteers to do since most have full time jobs to support their families.
I would like to see the state legislature pass a bill to offer some type of financial incentive to volunteer firefighters in the form of tax breaks or free college tuition, something similar to GI Bill benefits, but for in-state colleges. That might be a way to attract new firefighters. After all, volunteer firefighters are our "First-Line" of defense against disasters in our communities. As a matter of fact, I am going to begin writing letters to state legislators in an effort to bring awareness to the problem of recruiting and retaining volunteer firefighters in this state. Maybe some of them may understand how beneficial these men and women are in protecting property and saving lives.
Volunteer fire departments are looking for men and women over 18 years of age with a strong desire to help. Of course, drug tests and criminal history are two hurdles you must pass. Talk to members of the fire department in your community. Everyone has something to offer. There is much that needs done in fire departments. If you have a strong desire to serve your neighbors, becoming a volunteer firefighter may be just what you're looking for.
Volunteer fire departments are asked to respond to car wrecks, home and business fires, reports of gas leaks, high water emergencies, search and rescue, power line fires, cold weather emergencies, hazardous material spills, and many other problems. What would we do without them? Good question. Our home owners insurance rates would raise considerably and there would be no one to respond to car wrecks, house fires, or any other emergencies with the equipment, training, and desire to give assistance.
Volunteer fire departments. Who needs them? We do.
Thanks, once again, for allowing me to express my opinions. Dosveedonyah!
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