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Firefighters need volunteers in at-risk counties in NC

The North Carolina Association of Fire Chiefs is facing a critical recruitment challenge.

Posted Updated

Rick Armstrong, producer,
Debra Morgan, anchor/reporter

The North Carolina Association of Fire Chiefs is facing a critical recruitment challenge.

Since budget cuts across the state have left fewer job opportunities, firefighters have launched an effort to find and keep more volunteers.

At the Fairview Fire Department in Apex, firefighters often perform a variety of clean-up and organizational duties while they wait for an emergency call. Volunteer firefighters pitch in to help as well.

"It gives them the ability to help their community, be involved and make a difference," said Captain Glenn Clapp, adding that most fire stations now need more volunteers due largely to the impact of the coronavirus on city and county budgets.

Raleigh’s budget for 2021 reduced paid firefighter positions by 20. Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) research shows volunteers make up 72% of firefighters in the state. Their numbers are declining by 11-12% annually.

Clapp said many stations cannot function well without them.

"Volunteers are a very cost-effective way to maintain staffing levels to where we have the response that our citizens desire," he said.

A FEMA grant program called Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, or SAFER, enhances recruitment efforts in 15 "at risk" fire department groups in the state. These departments and counties include:

  • Franklin County: Youngsville Volunteer Fire Department
  • Harnett County: Harnett County Chiefs Association
  • Wake County: Wake County Fire Services
  • Wilson County: Silver Lake Volunteer Fire Department

The grants are designed to equip fire departments with research and workshops.

Fire departments can use geographic information to learn more about their community’s cultural and economic data. The aim is to find the best approach for recruiting a volunteer firefighter workforce.

Leadership workshops are also part of the strategy to better recruit and retain volunteers.

Clapp’s Fairview Fire Department was one of 15 in the state to participate in the grant’s first phase.

"We actually increased our numbers with 110 volunteers over two years," said Clapp. However, he added, 55 volunteers left during that period.

In the grant’s second phase Clapp hopes to hold onto more of those volunteers.

"That is really making an impact," he said. "Helping us to gain volunteers and retain the ones we already have."

Clapp said a well-trained and well-staffed force of career firefighters along with volunteers is important for every community. It helps with the Insurance Service Office (ISO) rating, "and that actually helps keep our insurance rates low," he said.

To learn more about becoming a volunteer firefighter and joining a local volunteer fire department, visit www.volunteerfirenc.org.

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