A fire near Craig, Colorado in 2000. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
Relying on unpaid volunteers to fight wildfires and structure fires is the only feasible way to provide fire protection services in some rural areas. Many of these departments are finding that as residents, especially the younger generation, move into cities, the departments are faced with declining numbers of firefighters.
Below are excerpts from two articles on the issue, from Colorado and South Australia.
From KUNC, Community Radio for Colorado:
Volunteer firefighters protect about half of Colorado’s residents, with solely volunteer departments being responsible for about 70 percent of the state’s land surface.
And they are significantly understaffed.
The Colorado State Fire Chiefs Association estimates that Colorado is short 3,500 volunteers in meeting National Fire Protection Agency standards. That would require an increase of more than 40 percent to the present force.
“Generally, all fire departments that have volunteers need more volunteers,” said Garry Briese, executive director of the fire chiefs association.
“It’s a struggle at times and you just do the best you can do, the best for the community.”
There are 198 all-volunteer departments in Colorado serving more than 450,000 residents, and an additional 137 agencies that are a combination of career and volunteer firefighters. These “hybrid” stations serve 2.2 million residents, and 33 of them have only one or two paid firefighters…
From South Australia’s Messenger:
The Country Fire Service is recording an increase in volunteers for the first time in years on the back of last year’s horror fire season.
Total CFS volunteer numbers have increased from 13,325 to 13,737 over the past six months. The 3 per cent increase bucks a steady downward trend in numbers from the 15,590 volunteers there were in 2004/05. Damaging fires in January and February this year at Eden Valley in the northern Mount Lofty Ranges and at Bangor in the Southern Flinders Ranges appear to have sparked people into action.
Volunteer numbers in CFS Region 4, where the Bangor fire was, are up 6.5 per cent from 1776 to 1891. Similarly, numbers in CFS Region 2, where the Eden Valley fire was, are up 5.8 per cent from 2630 to 2784.
South Australian Fire and Emergency Services Commission Volunteer Services Branch manager Toni Richardson said it was a great sign. “It’s the first time we can actually remember it increasing over an extended period, which is really good,” she said…