LUFKIN, Texas (KTRE) - The National Fire Protection Association reports that volunteer fire departments have seen a 15% drop in volunteers over the last 30 years. Fire Chiefs say this is a serious problem since most departments are volunteer-based.
“We’ve gradually seen it over the years, I’ve been doing this 36 years, and the time of the younger 20 and 30-year-olds have declined," Central Volunteer Fire Chief Denis Cochran said. "Now, the 40s and 50s is the majority of a lot of our volunteer fire departments.”
Kent Childress of Fuller Springs Volunteer Fire Department says the same.
“We’re pretty low on manpower," he said. "Not a lot of people want to volunteer to jump up from dinner and leave their family and put fires out all day.”
“A lot of people’s reaction is ‘I wouldn’t be doing that if I didn’t get paid.’ That’s what keeps a lot of people away. They don’t think about it or are too busy, and the fact you don’t get paid to do it,” Cochran added.
Cochran says with older volunteers aging out and new generations not volunteering, rural communities are put at risk.
“Outside your cities and stuff, the volunteer fire departments give you your fire service. Your cities can afford through tax dollars to pay for firemen. rural communities don’t have that extra money,” he said.
When a call comes in, responders are spread thin.
“We help each other, because there may be only two or three guys coming from each department depending on what time of the day it is, especially that 8 to 5 Monday through Friday when everybody is working,” Cochran said.
Cochran says resorting to social media and road signs has helped some, but that it comes down to finding individuals who get fulfillment from protecting their community rather than a paycheck.
“I want to give back to that community. This is my one way of doing that, by volunteering for the fire service and helping people in need. We don’t get a paycheck, so it’s gotta be that. You gotta want to do it because you just want to help your community.”
Cochran says anybody can volunteer to be a firefighter, though most training requirements vary by department. He says those interested can start by calling their local volunteer fire department.