We have a crisis on our hands and a quick glance at the headlines paints a clear picture:
- Oklahoma Deals with Shortage in Volunteer Firefighters
- Critical Shortage of Volunteer Firefighters Leaves Northeast Wisconsin Communities in Danger
- Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana Fire Departments Stretched Thin by Volunteer Shortage
Make no mistake; things are not business as usual in the volunteer fire service. The number of volunteer firefighters is down 10% from 1984 to 2015, even as the U.S. population has grown by more than 35%. And across the country, the local ranks of volunteer firefighters are getting older, with the percentage who are 50 and older rising at an alarming rate across all communities.
Volunteer firefighters, in many ways, are the backbone of the fire service and they save the taxpayer billions of dollars each year. While there’s no quick fix to this problem, there are resources available to help calm the storm.
The IAFC’S Volunteer Workforce Solutions (VWS) program and the Volunteer & Combination Officers Section (VCOS) have been diligently working on these issues. VWS has a national initiative focusing on diversity and inclusion in the fire service with a plethora of resources such as recruitment/retention case studies, how-to guides, webinars and social-media toolkits for volunteer and combination departments.
In addition, the IAFC has partnered with several state fire-chief organizations to deliver statewide, volunteer firefighter recruitment and retention programs in Connecticut, Virginia, Tennessee and most recently North Carolina. All these programs advertise the need for volunteers statewide, help departments create customized recruitment plans and deliver leadership training to improve retention.
VCOS continues to offer educational opportunities focused on improving recruitment and retention through its symposiums, webinars and courses, such as Beyond Hoses and Helmets as well as Fire Rescue Organizational Guidance for ESOs.
You can also find a number of resources from the section’s website. I encourage you to take advantage of these resources to help local fire departments deliver critical fire-protection services to communities.
Fire Chief Thomas C. Jenkins V
President and Chairman of the Board