Fighting Fires For Free, Aging Volunteers Struggle To Recruit The Next Generation
Did you know that 7 out of 10 firefighters in the U.S. are volunteers? We are a dying breed these days though. Our volunteer departments are increasingly understaffed and overworked. On any given day, when you pull that fire alarm or call 911, it's a handful of volunteers who leave their job to come to your aid, and they're doing it for free.
Most rural departments, like ours here in Crested Butte, are made up of volunteers but now days these departments are finding it harder and harder to maintain their volunteer numbers. It's not uncommon to see volunteers in their 50's, 60's and even 70's volunteering their time to keep their departments staffed. According to the National Volunteer Fire Council, about a third of small town volunteer firefighters are now over the age of 50. That's twice as many as in the 1980s.
Throughout the country while we are seeing the number of volunteers declining and the remaining volunteers are trending older, we are seeing a huge increase in call volume. This has been the trend here in Crested Butte over the years as well. Recruiting volunteers has been a challenge for us as the cost of living continues to increase. Many young men and women who are of working age are working full time jobs which they are unable to leave or are working outside of the district.
Volunteer Departments have a lot of heart and are dedicated to their communities in which they serve. We will continue recruiting new volunteers in an effort to reduce costs of having to go to paid staff. Our priorities remain with providing quality response and care for our community. Read more in this NPR article on Fighting Fires For Free, Aging Volunteers Struggle To Recruit The Next Generation.