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Photo: Justin McKee/WWAY

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.

“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.

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  • VoiceOfReason

    Causey cites “modern distractions, like smartphones, video games, sports, or band” for younger people volunteering for public service like firefighting. That reasoning seems simplistic and likely more symptomatic of larger issues within our state – a sense of responsibility in the community and a growing distrust of established institutions like government, schools, and churches. Social media has changed the game for both of these issues. While there are positive aspects of social media, too often false information is distributed via social media that misleads many users to believe in untruths.

  • sandflea

    Maybe society can finally decide what it likes better, overpriced overfunded school “sports” (look up how many pedo or drug selling coaches have been arrested locally) or houses that aren’t burned down. We need to get people involved in keeping our communities intact before we waste time on games. How about getting out high schoolers involved in real character building community service instead of setting them up for life destroying traumatic brain injuries.

    • Guest2020

      With all the waste of taxpayer money, I don’t think that high school sports it at the top of the list.

    • 58thStreetSurfer

      Didn’t read the entire article? Smartphones and video games were also mentioned. As for overfunded sports, football and basketball bring in more money than is spent on the teams. Some schools depend on sports to finance other school programs they don’t have the funds to pay for.

      • sandflea

        If the parents don’t care enough to support programs that enrich their children’s lives without giving them head injuries, then maybe they should consider why they have children.

    • Evelyn Turno

      Not to mention once they are injured in sports they are being introduced to opioids and we all know where that path leads.

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