Volunteers wanted at many rural fire departments in southeastern North Carolina


ELIZABETHTOWN, NC (WWAY) — How to attract and keep volunteer firefighters was the topic of discussion in Bladen County Tuesday.

The state’s fire marshal toured three fire departments and found many are in need of new recruits.

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“We’re just trying to do things to call attention to the importance of being involved with your local fire department,” said North Carolina State Fire Marshal Mike Causey.

It’s no secret that firefighters are the heroes of the community.

Many fire departments rely on volunteers to survive. But in recent years, the supply of recruits has dried up.

“It’s important to get folks on the scene quickly in an emergency, but it’s also effective to have enough people there to do what you need to do. That’s why we rely so much on the volunteers to help us with that, with fires and EMS-related responses,” said Elizabethtown Fire Chief Nick West.

Causey toured fire departments in Clarkton, Elizabethtown, and Council on Tuesday.

He says that young people aren’t volunteering as much anymore because of modern distractions, like smartphones, video games, sports, or band.

The lack of volunteers hurts smaller counties much more than larger ones.

“It’s always magnified in the rural communities. If you have people that grow up in Bladen County and they go to college, they get their degrees, and they need to find a job, where are they gonna find a job? They have to go to Raleigh or Charlotte or a larger city, generally,” said Causey.

A town of fewer than four thousand, Elizabethtown actually has a pretty sizeable fire department, eleven staff firefighters and thirty volunteers.

It can serve as a model for other small communities.

“What the chief is doing here to recruit the younger volunteers and to go after grant money to help buy the needed equipment and so forth, it is an ideal model for other fire departments around the state,” said Causey.

Fires aren’t limited to the big cities, they happen in small towns too.

Reversing the volunteer shortage could be the best way to fight those blazes.

Causey says that a common theme with many of the small-town fire departments is the need for state funding, whether in the form of incentives for attracting and retaining volunteers or grant money for new equipment.

His office will be putting pressure on the state to call attention to these needs.