As a result of the economic decline, local volunteer fire departments in Indiana are saying they have a shortage of firefighters.
Steve Crispen, president of Cass County Fire Association, said Cass and surrounding counties have seen a sharp decrease in the number of volunteers over the past few years.
Consequently, the volunteer fire departments say they have to rely more on mutual aid agreements with non-volunteer departments.
The local numbers are on par with a national shortage of volunteer firefighters, as reported by the National Volunteer Fire Council.
Firefighters from Young America, Walton and Rockfield say they have seen their departments shrink from about 30 volunteers to about 13 or 14.
Crispen partly attributes the decrease in numbers to the lack of businesses in small towns.
In the past, Crispen said, more residents had time to be volunteer firefighters because they worked at businesses in town and could easily respond to calls during the day.
Increased requirements to be a volunteer firefighter, which can include 24 or 48 hours of training depending on the level of firefighter, also put a strain on residents who already have day jobs, Crispen said.
Because of the decreased numbers, Georgetown Fire Chief Dave Larimore said his department of 18 greatly relies on aid from the New Waverly firefighters at Cass County Fire District No. 1.
“We’ve had calls where one to two people responded, and we’ve had to have help called,” Larimore said.
Crispen said volunteer departments can also be slower to respond because of their decreased forces.
Larimore said his department had the most trouble responding to calls during the day.
Nationwide, the economic downturn has caused the number of volunteer firefighters to drop because people have to work two or three jobs and do not have time to do unpaid work, according to Kimberly Quiros, director of communications at the National Volunteer Fire Council.
At the Young America Fire Department, Fire Chief Frank Simpson said volunteers are compensated for their time with a yearly allowance of $100 for replacing clothing that may have been damaged during fire runs.
Simpson also noted that volunteers were typically older.
“The younger members are hard to get now,” Simpson said.
To combat the low numbers, Crispen said, departments such as the Cass County Fire District expect more calls from volunteer departments and have been able to effectively cover local areas.
“We’re going to work together and do our best to help the person that calls 9-1-1,” Crispen said.