FORSYTH COUNTY, N.C. -- Volunteer fire departments hope a $1.1 million grant will help them recruit more volunteer fire fighters.
The number of volunteer fire fighters has drastically dwindled across the country in recent decades including Forsyth County where about 700 volunteer fire fighters protect the county.
“That number continues to drop," says Deputy Fire Marshall Tim Whicker. "I remember when we were looking at 1,200 to 1,300 volunteers in Forsyth County."
Whicker says the decline is a reflection of changes in society. Families are busy today and people who live in rural areas have left their farms for 9-5 jobs in the city, leaving less people to volunteer.
"With the lack of volunteers you still have to get the truck on the roads, fight the fires, go to the wrecks," Whicker said. "So [volunteer departments] have been forced to increase their budgets and either hire full-time or part-time fire fighters in order to cover the station. Volunteers in our community save a tremendous amount of tax money for the fact you are not having to pay salaries."
Fire officials also point out that in addition to saving tax dollars the more volunteers a department has the lower your homeowners insurance rate will be. The rate is based on a formula that takes into consideration the number of fire fighters on stand-by in your fire district.
The $1.1 million grant will be used to help recruit volunteers with a campaign scheduled for this fall. The campaign hopes to recruit 136 volunteers though departments will admit they need a lot more helping hands.
“If I don't go who's going? Somebody needs to go," says Deputy Chief Robbie Shrewsbury for Salem Chapel Volunteer Fire Department. His department is the smallest in Forsyth County and with fewer volunteers they've been forced to hire a part-time fire fighter Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
If you are interested in volunteering, contact your nearest volunteer fire department.