High demand for volunteer fire fighters in rural areas
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MANISTEE COUNTY, MI (WPBN/WGTU) -- The demand for volunteer firefighters is high, and while dedicated men and women offer their time, fire departments, especially in rural areas, are still in need.
According to the National Fire Department Registry, there are 966 registered fire departments in the state of Michigan, and out of that number nearly 66 percent of those are volunteer departments and 21 percent are “mostly volunteer.”
But it’s securing those fire fighters that is getting tougher.
Onekama Township Fire Department in Manistee County has one employed fire fighter, Chief Clinton Osborn.
Chief Osborn works along side 20 volunteers. Like many other departments in the area, Onekama fire house needs more hands on deck.
“There’s quite a bit of training you have to do, especially with your medical license, that’s required every year, and the fire training,” Osborn explained. “We try to train twice a month so that in itself is a big commitment just to keep up on your training and proficiency with all these skills.”
According to Chief Osborn, having a limited amount of volunteers could affect response times with fire fighters having to travel from their jobs or home to the fire house before going to a scene.
“When you have to call someone and they have to drive to the stations and then you have to go to the call, I mean if you’re already there, that cuts down that considerably,” Osborn said.
In Michigan, volunteers are required to go through a six month training before they can join the department.
A 2014 study by the National Volunteer Fire Council estimates the cost to train and equip a fire fighter is nearly $27,000.
Most volunteers have to pay for those costs themselves but some departments do reimburse for the costs.
According to the NVFC, 69 percent of fire fighters in the U.S. are volunteer, and the number of volunteers are decreasing, and age is increasing.
The NVFC also reports that volunteer fire fighters are more likely to get injured than paid.