Local fire departments face critical volunteer shortages

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FORSYTH COUNTY, N.C. — Two Forsyth County fire departments have been identified as “at-risk” when it comes to recruitment and retention of volunteer firefighters.

Fire chiefs in Lewisville and Rural Hall hope a grant program will help attract new recruits.

“We knew we were looking for a large diverse group of people, one of the questions we had was how do we target those people? How do we identify those people?” Lewisville Fire Chief Darin Needham said.

The North Carolina Association of Fire Chiefs, funded by Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), will help provide targeted research in 12 communities across the state, and workshops to boost involvement.

“We’re truly neighbors helping neighbors, and without those volunteers, we would cease to function, there would be nobody to respond,” Needham said.

He explained that the department has about 40 volunteer firefighters currently, but they’d like to double their numbers.

In Rural Hall, Chief Andy Marshall hopes to boost the volunteer program from 17 firefighters to 30.

“Anything from fighting fires to administering medical aid to doing traffic to bringing refreshments to the scene of a fire, we need anyone for all kinds of different duties,” Marshall said.

He said the average age of the department’s volunteers is over 40 years old.

“A lot of our really active people maybe have already retired from their full-time job as a firefighter, whether it’s Winston-Salem or Forsyth County or anywhere else locally. They still want to help, they have it in their blood, they’re still knocking the door down to help, but they’re aging out,” Marshall said.

According to the NC Association of Fire Chiefs, nearly 70 percent of all North Carolina firefighters are volunteers. That number is dropping approximately 11 percent annually.

“If we lose those volunteer members we lose that community spread of diversity in location,” Needham said.

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