FAYETTEVILLE — The days of volunteer firefighters rushing in their vehicles to battle the flames are over. Now a volunteer firefighter must be a jack of all trades, trained to go on everything from medical emergencies to hazardous materials (hazmat) calls.
Because of that, many are being forced out by new requirements that make them spend hundreds of hours in the classroom.
For decades, volunteer firefighters have been depended on to save lives and property in some of our state's most isolated areas. Their roles have changed; so have their requirements.
"You're looking at about 260-280 hours just for the Firefighters I and II certification with the state," explains Brian Carson of the fire marshal's office. "You're also looking at another 130 hours for your EMTs (emergency medical technicians), because a lot of them are running rescue now and doing EMS. Then you're also looking at another 40 hours for hazmat operations."
But that's not all. Volunteers also need an additional 120 hours for emergency response training. That's more than 600 classroom hours.
"I can understand where they get upset about that," Carson says. "But also with that, they've got to have the training. They got to know what they're doing when they go out there."
"Being active duty military, it makes it tough having to go to the field all the time, trying to meet the requirements," Eric Marshall admits. "They're there for safety, but I think it discourages a lot of people from volunteering when we have such a short supply of firefighters as it is to begin with."
"Some of the guys that maybe aren't so committed, I think it's going to be a problem," Pat Valdez says. "We may lose some of the people that don't have the time. It depends on your employer."
The new requirements mean those who can't get time away from their families and jobs will have to find a different way to give back to their communities.
State instructors also say insurance companies covering the fire agencies are mandating the new requirements as well.