Virginia fire chiefs warn of volunteer shortage

RICHMOND, Virginia (WRIC) – They fight fires, provide first aid and yes, sometimes they save cats from trees – and most of the time they do it without pay.

There is a shortage of volunteer firefighters across the country, and it hits particularly hard in Virginia.

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According to the US Fire Administration, 54% of all firefighters in the United States are volunteers – but in Virginia, according to the Virginia Department of Fire Programs (VDFP), that number is closer to 70%.

In a strategic plan published in 2018, the VDFP predicted that there would be a decrease in the number of volunteer firefighters they trained in the following years – and national data shows that this reflects a continuing trend.

The association warns that the shortage can negatively impact departments in terms of staffing levels and put more stress on volunteers already in the force.

(Table courtesy of the National Fire Protection Association)

While the number of professional firefighters has remained stable, there has been a sharp decline in the number of volunteer firefighters since the 1980s.

The Virginia Fire Chiefs Association (VFCA) is hoping to reverse this trend with a public service announcement released on October 18, aimed at boosting the recruitment of new volunteers.

With volunteerism in decline across the state and nation, VFCA believes that [the ad] will help recruit new members to the Virginia Volunteer Fire Department, ”said VFCA Chief Keith H. Johnson.

Corn a survey carried out by George Mason University in 2015 suggests that the problems facing volunteer services may not be so easy to solve.

Responses to the survey – collected from firefighters at Commonwealth stations – suggest the majority of firefighters were recruited through word of mouth, referrals and local community events. Only 23% of volunteers were recruited through web information and 13% saw a TV commercial.

The most important factor behind the low number of volunteers was attrition – 64% of volunteer respondents said other members of their position had left because of the large amount of time spent. This is compared to just 15% of professional firefighters who said the same thing.

Those interested in becoming volunteers are encouraged to contact the department that interests them. According to the Virginia Department of Fire Programs, each department has its own qualifications and application process.

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