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Shortage of Volunteer Firefighters

Written by: Hallee Haygood

Did you know… Out of the 1,087 registered fire departments in North Carolina, more than 90% are volunteer or mostly volunteer departments? 



The Challenge

Municipalities in North Carolina are struggling to recruit volunteer firefighters within their localities. This is likely due to a decrease in the time that residents have, as well as a decreasing interest in emergency services. As more people are finding themselves commuting to work, they are less likely to volunteer in any capacity. However, the most pressing issue for recruitment, is a lack of interest among young populations.

The Solution

When youth are introduced to firefighting curricula, they are more likely to engage as volunteers. This has led to an increase in educational opportunities about the work of firefighters, as well as training programs within schools. In Orange County, the best solution has been training those in high school and community college, which allows students to gain credits while also improving their community. Orange County’s programming for youth in the community has been very successful.

Orange County High School offers courses in three phases: “Fire Fighter Technology I, II, and III.  The completion of both Fire Fighter Technology I and II will cover modules required for all fire fighters in North Carolina.  Fire Fighter Technology I includes modules on Orientation & Safety, Health and Wellness, Portable Extinguishers, Foam Fire Streams, and Emergency Medical.  Fire Fighter Technology II includes modules on Building Construction, Ropes, Alarms & Communications, Forcible Entry, Ladders, Ventilation, and Loss Control.” This has allowed for students to get certified at a younger age, and to know what they want out of their careers sooner. Anywhere from eight to ten students will be involved during the semester.

By creating programming to recruit students to be volunteer firefighters, departments have been able to fill the gaps they have been seeing. Additionally, many schools have created junior firefighting programs, fire academies, and even fire camps for younger children. Bringing these two groups together is essential for success.

The Learning

As localities continue to push for an increase in the number of volunteer firefighters within their community, it will be essential to train folks at a young age. The sooner that kids and teenagers are in contact with fire education, the better. This will allow them to start considering volunteering in the present, as well as becoming a firefighter for their eventual occupation. Departments will need to consider new ways to reach youth in the community. One way to do this is through social media, whether that is through recruitment posts or “day in the life” videos. New and unique tools will be essential for recruitment and will ensure that the number of volunteer firefighters does not continue to decrease.

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