The nation has seen a decline in the number of volunteer firefighters causing some departments to close its doors and others to work overtime.
However, several departments in South Carolina are working to make sure volunteer numbers in the state don’t drop to dangerous levels
More than 60% of the firefighters in South Carolina are volunteer, which means they don’t get paid for their services. The state has seen a decline in the number of volunteers departments have so departments are implementing creative ways to attract new volunteers and keep the old ones.
Captain Gene Shealy with Newberry Fire Department is in charge of recruitment and retention for the area. He explained the impact of not having enough men and women on a force.
“The consequences can be very grave. It’s one of those things that you battle and time is of the essence in this situation. Some people ask what am I guaranteed, well if you’re 100% volunteer I don’t know what you’re guaranteed,” said Captain Shealy.
Not having enough firefighters in a department can lead to a dangerous situation, but it’s a reality many departments in the state to have to face.
Captain Shealy used rural areas as an example.
“Our true rural areas in Newberry, across South Carolina, in our nation have to call on other communities to respond. So we’re using more of our resources to get what we used to get on a first alarm assignment and by doing so we’re leaving some communities without that fire protection.”
Some departments are thinking outside of the box to attract more volunteers. In Newberry, the department has simplified the application process… others offer perks.
“We have tax breaks available they can write off on their taxes. In Newberry, we’re offering scholarships to volunteers who want to go back to college,” added Shealy.
But whether it’s through incentives or an easy hiring process, bringing on more volunteers is vital to all fire departments operations.
“If it continues to decline. it could be a possibility of departments having to close their doors.”
There are about 17,000 firefighters in South Carolina which includes paid firefighters and volunteers. Since Newberry started the recruitment and retention program they’ve been able to double the number of volunteers in its departments.
For more information on how you can get involved or become a volunteer click HERE