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Local fire departments say they're seeing a shortage of volunteer firefighters

Posted at 6:02 PM, Sep 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-14 19:32:21-04

WISCONSIN (NBC26) — Like many industries across the state, the fire service is seeing a worker shortage. Local fire departments that rely on volunteer firefighters say they're struggling to find new volunteers.

"There are very few volunteer departments in the area that aren’t looking for people all the time," said Donald Waters, a firefighter with the Green Valley-Morgan Fire Department. "The problem that we have is finding them and retaining them.”

Waters has been a firefighter with the Green Valley-Morgan department for nearly 10 years and has been a career firefighter for more than 60 years. Reflecting back on 9/11, he says the attacks initially caused a flood of support for first responders.

“It brought a spotlight on EMS, your first responders, and the police and fire department,” Waters said.

Now 20 years later, he says he's seen that rush to serve the public fade away over the years.

“Initially I think there was an initial rush to help out, but that has cooled off considerably,” he said.

One of the reasons some are discouraged from becoming volunteer firefighters is the extensive training that is required.

“Firefighter 1, which is the minimum firefighter requirement for state certification is typically 8 to 10 weeks, so it’s kind of like a semester of college," said Kelly Hanink, an assistant fire chief at the Grand Chute Fire Department.

She says the Grand Chute Fire Department has seen their number of volunteer firefighters dwindling for the last four to five years.

“Like everybody in the fire service, we see less people applying for those positions, less people coming," Hanink said. "We’re always trying to figure out new ways to recruit.”

Hanink began her career in the fire service as a volunteer firefighter. Although she was already working another full-time job at the time, she wanted to give back.

“I was a paid on-call firefighter elsewhere 14 years ago. I started while doing my full-time job," Hanink said. "It’s the ability to serve the community in a very unique way.”

Serving the community is what she says makes the fire service so rewarding, whether you’re a career firefighter or just a volunteer giving whatever time you can.

"There’s that volunteer heart in the fire service," Hanink said. "It’s the best job in the world whether it’s actually a job or in that volunteer way because we’re helping somebody out on their worst day."