‘It used to be a noble profession’: Why there are fewer volunteer firefighters

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CALABASH, NC (WWAY) —┬áTimes are changing for a lot of fire departments in the Cape Fear region. One fire chief says you used to see tons of volunteer firefighters, but nowadays, not so much.

Calabash Fire Chief Randall Bork says our culture is simply changing. He says that especially in Brunswick County, they have a tough time finding young people who want to get involved.

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Bork says it used to be a noble profession.

“To get young people that are interior firefighters is hard,” Bork said. “It gets harder all the time with the education they’re requiring to do that.”

Bork says fire departments in North Carolina used to be full of volunteer firefighters.



“It’s very hard in this area.,” Bork said. “It’s a retirement community, the people we serve. Young people are hard to come by. We do have a lot of volunteers that are older, and they’re like a support for us. They do traffic and get equipment off the trucks and everything.”

But Bork says most of his staff is paid now. He says a lot of firefighters will train as a volunteer, then apply for paid positions, or even go somewhere else.

State Insurance Commissioner and Fire Marshal Mike Causey paid a visit to the Calabash Fire Department Tuesday. He, too, sees the changing trend.

“Today in North Carolina, volunteers are still close to 70%,” Causey said. “We have a number of departments in North Carolina that are all volunteer, however, it’s getting harder and harder to recruit those volunteers and to retain those volunteers.”

Causey says that 40 years ago, 90% of fire departments in the state were volunteers.

Is the future of fire departments shifting to a fully-paid staff?

“I think it’s already in that mode,” Bork said. “The whole service countrywide is having trouble recruiting volunteer firefighters. Years ago it was about helping the people, helping the citizens and everything, and I just don’t see that happening anymore.”

Bork says he thinks there needs to be more programs for young students and children to immerse them in the career field. He says if there were more opportunities for young people to get involved and learn, it would help draw more volunteers.