Volunteer fire companies are assets to every community
Volunteer firefighters are some of the most valuable members of our community, sacrificing their time and energy to protect our lives and property. Their reward is knowing that they are strengthening their community.
As valuable as volunteer firefighters are, they probably are taken far too much for granted. Local government often grudgingly allocates scant resources, and the public, at large, is often of the mindset that volunteer fire companies should be able to function without the aid of tax dollars.
The problem goes much deeper than the increasing difficulties volunteer departments face in meeting their financial needs. The number of people willing to volunteer has steadily dwindled and should be an area of major concern to communities all over the nation.
Consider that in 1976, there were about 3,000 volunteer fire departments in the United States, manned by approximately 300,000 volunteers. A little more than a quarter century later, those numbers have dropped to 2,400 departments and 70,000 volunteers.
At the same time, there is as much need for the services volunteer fire companies provide. In fact, there may be more of a need, considering the steps taken in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the role volunteer firefighters play in local emergency response plans.
There are any number of reasons one can point to for the decline in volunteerism.
According to the state Department of Community and Economic Development, changes in society, a lack of tangible benefits, limited recruiting resources and limited local government involvement all come into play.
Indeed, local government, especially that in small rural areas where belt-tightening is a way of life, there is precious little resources available for volunteer agencies. Fire departments — strapped for cash — lack the resources needed to actively recruit and train new volunteers.
They are left, then, to make due. That’s something that has become increasingly difficult to do. The changes in society the DCED refers to include a decline in the importance among people to serve their communities. People simply don’t have the time or aren’t willing to sacrifice the time to volunteer.
The problem appears destined to only worsen. As it does, more and more problems will arise. When volunteer departments become woefully undermanned, the money local governments save today may be spent tomorrow to pay firefighters. We, as taxpayers, and our governments must do more to ensure it never comes to that.
The residents themselves have to change their attitudes toward volunteerism. The sacrifices we make will only strengthen the communities we live in. Short of becoming a volunteer firefighter, we can also help by donating our time, energy and what money we can to local departments.
Volunteer fire companies are assets to every community, as valuable as hospitals, schools, libraries and churches. As they weaken, so to do our towns. The trend that has seen a 75-percent reduction in volunteer firefighters over the last 27 years is troubling, and must be reversed.