WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (WGHP) — Firefighters across the Triad hope to take different steps in their approach to get qualified individuals to apply to fill dozens of open firefighter positions.
The shortage of applicants has increased in recent years with the most significant increase being felt in the last year.
Winston-Salem Fire Chief Trey Mayo told Winston-Salem city council members on Tuesday that he cannot pinpoint the exact reason for the decrease.
He did explain that Winston-Salem applications have decreased about 10 percent each year for the past five to six years. However, the most recent application pool was down by 35 percent.
Battalion Chief Joe Ramsey oversees operations at the fire house in the Ardmore District, one of the most busy districts in the city.
“We used to get around 700 to 1000 applicants. But now, and it’s not just Winston-Salem, departments are having to change how they market to people,” he said.
Winston-Salem has the highest number of structure fires in the Triad due to the amount of older buildings.
Chief Ramsey estimated it is more than 275 per year.
If they do not get more applicants, it is going to make it harder to fight those fires.
“Since the 80s, 90s and today, we’ve taken on more responsibility to make our community better,” Battalion Chief Joe Ramsey said.
He believes some of the decline has to do with the hours required to become certified on top of the pay that is being seen in other lines of work.
“You have to have 400 hours if you want to go into a structure fire. You also will be running medical calls, so that’s another 300 hours.” He explained. “Pay has gone up in the private industry. So a lot of people are migrating to the private industry. People are also wanting to work from home. In the fire service, you are in a home. Just not your home.”
Rural fire departments, such as the Fairgrove Fire Department, have seen a steady flow of volunteer firefighters but not individuals who want to take the paid positions.
Battalion Chief Chris Harrison told FOX8 that it is a level he has never seen before.
“We used to have people come all the time. Now it’s few a far between,” he said.
To put it into perspective, Fairgrove used to received a group of applicants a month, but that has decreased to one or two every few months.
“We need the help. But without the help, we can’t get your fires put out. help you in the time that you need it,” Harrison said.
To help entice individuals, Winston-Salem has expanded their distance on how close you must be to apply.
In the past, you had to live in a county that bordered Forsyth County. Now, you only have to live within 60 miles of downtown Winston-Salem.