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Local volunteer fire departments worry about recruitment

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- In an industry where every second counts, Forsyth County Fire Marshall Tim Whicker worries about the lack of manpower.

"We probably need volunteers now more than ever before," Whicker said.

Right now the 23 stations across Forsyth County, not counting Winston-Salem and Kernersville departments, are stretched thin. Out of 700 firefighters, most of them volunteers, 100 are out west battling wildfires. Whicker hopes they will return Wednesday afternoon.

"Well of course if you take 100 people away from us, then the people left behind have to perform those duties," he said.

Over the past 12 years, he says the amount of firefighters in their network has gone down from around 1,200 to 700.

"We're a very urbanized area," Whicker said. "There's a lot that competes for a person's time, and as the population grows in Forsyth County, so do the demands for the services, so we're seeing probably it's hard for an individual to meet those demands."

The solution for the shortage may be supplementing volunteer departments with paid workers, but that's not easy for rural areas.

"Most communities cannot afford a fully paid department, the tax base is just not there to support that," Whicker said.

The Forsyth County Fire Department is working on a social media campaign to recruit, along with developing programs in the classroom to help recruit high school students and get them interested in volunteering.

Whicker also asks that people respect burn bans this holiday season, as volunteer firefighters hope to spend that time with the family.