North Carolina rural counties grapple with volunteer firefighter shortage

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ELIZABETHTOWN, NC (WWAY) — Bladen County is one of a dozen North Carolina counties facing a critical shortage of volunteer firefighters.

“We want to bring awareness to the critical firefighter shortage that is going on throughout the state especially in rural communities with populations with less than 3,000 residents,” said Nick West, Fire Chief of the Elizabethtown Fire Department. “Members of our volunteer fire departments are aging and it’s hard to find replacements for those folks who are either retiring or age out.”

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A little more than 70 percent of all North Carolina firefighters are volunteers and that number is diminishing by 11 percent annually. If the numbers continue to decline, it could drastically impact life safety and property emergencies.

“It impacts the critical time it takes to respond to a call because the volunteers have to assemble and they have to go to the station to get the trucks,” West said.

To control a fire quickly, it takes a critical force of 12-15 firefighters.

“So its important to have enough firefighters on the scene quickly to make an effective response to control a fire and also for firefighter safety because its important to have enough folks on the scene to be safe and to make an effective stop on the fire,” West said.

As a result of the shortage, the North Carolina Association of Fire Chiefs (NCAFC), in partnership with the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), is launching an urgent volunteer firefighter recruitment campaign.

“Local volunteers provide the bedrock of North Carolina’s firefighter workforce,” said Chief Tracy Mosley, program manager, NCAFC. “We understand that the safety of our communities relies on fully staffed and trained departments, and based on the success of past campaigns, we’re eager to launch this next iteration to transform our state’s volunteer fire service landscape.”

The campaign is part of the Volunteer Workforce Solutions program designed to help North Carolina’s fire departments achieve a viable and sustainable volunteer firefighter workforce.

North Carolina’s two-year recruitment and retention campaign targets 15 at-risk fire department groups in the following 12 counties:

  • Bladen County: Elizabethtown Fire Department
  • Buncombe County: French Broad Volunteer Fire & Rescue and West Buncombe Volunteer Fire Department
  • Cherokee County: Hiwassee Dam Volunteer Fire Department
  • Duplin County: Chinquapin Volunteer Fire & Rescue
  • Forsyth County: Lewisville Fire Department and Rural Hall Fire Department
  • Franklin County: Youngsville Volunteer Fire Department
  • Harnett County: Harnett County Chiefs Association
  • Northampton County: Gaston Volunteer Fire Department
  • Pitt County: Town of Winterville Fire Department
  • Wake County: Wake County Fire Services
  • Wilson County: Silver Lake Volunteer Fire Department
  • Yadkin County: East Bend Volunteer Fire Department and Fall Creek Volunteer Fire Department

If you would like to learn more about becoming a volunteer firefighter and joining a local volunteer fire department, go to www.VolunteerFireNC.org.