ELKIN, N.C. -- Earlier this year, the Elkin Fire Department was in danger of being put on probation. A rise in volunteer firefighters aging out and fewer volunteers coming in had them riding the cut line.
“This is a widespread problem among the volunteer fire service in the United States,” said Elkin Fire Department Captain Theresa Knops.
The threat of probation came at a time where the department’s duties continued to rise, with the number of calls they respond to hovering around 600 a year. Many times, there may only be one or two firefighters responding to a call at any given time.
“It does take a mental and physical toll upon us,” Knops said.
Luckily, they’re now the ones getting help, thanks to a FEMA Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, or “SAFER” grant, totaling $485,726.
“It is not common to secure this grant, particularly in the amount that we were able to get,” Knops said. “We feel like it is the opportunity that we have been waiting for.”
For the first time, the department will be able to market themselves on television, radio and step up their presence on social media. In the third year, they plan to implement an Explorer Program, which will allow teens to gain training earlier than ever.
“When they turn 18, they go from being an explorer, to a volunteer firefighter,” Knops said.
Current volunteers will also have more opportunities open for them.
“We do have volunteer firefighters that want to get training above the basic requirements, but they perhaps might not have the funds to do so because it may involve traveling,” Knops added.
The department currently has 20 volunteer firefighters. They hope to double that number by the time the grant runs out four years from November.