We’re taking action. The North Carolina Association of Fire Chiefs (NCAFC) and the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) launched a campaign with 14 North Carolina counties, including Lincoln County to boost volunteer firefighter recruitment. To support our vital efforts, the NCAFC obtained a SAFER grant through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Volunteers make up the largest part of the fire service in our state. According to FEMA, 72 percent of North Carolina firefighters are volunteers, and 91.2 percent of departments are all or mostly volunteer. North Carolina fire departments have lost an average of 600 firefighters every year since 2016; nationally, this is an epidemic.
Our strategy includes a combination of traditional methods of recruitment along with using advancing technology to pinpoint with high accuracy the communities likely to have recruit candidates. We’re offering leadership workshops aimed at improving retention. We are also strategizing new ways to approach this problem, from policy changes in government to finding methods to encourage and reward volunteers for their critical work. Our team is advocating for employers who allow volunteers to take time to help their communities or who embark on a journey to pursue a firefighting career.
What are the stark effects of this volunteer shortage? Fewer volunteers create the need for us to call on other departments outside our district to assist. This strains other departments and leaves fewer firefighters to respond if a fire breaks out elsewhere.
We are clear on many of the obstacles to recruitment; it’s hard to get volunteers because they’re working a tough job with no pay. Sometimes there’s no clear path to a career in firefighting, and a fast-paced, hectic life doesn’t always translate to a second career as a volunteer firefighter.
And while the recruitment campaign is showing progress, we’re not out of the woods yet. We hope to connect with non-traditional candidates, regardless age, gender, race or current skill set, to help find them a place. We beckon entire families to volunteer, so when the alarm rings, not just mom or dad rushes out, but the whole family has a role to play. We’re looking for administrative and support volunteers, people who are instrumental in the survival of our department.
Here in Lincoln County, you can be part of the solution – as a volunteer, an advocate, a neighbor helping your neighbor. Anyone, from grandparents and teachers to college students and mechanics, can play a role.
Since our country’s foundation, volunteers have banded together to keep us safe from the hazards of fire. It is probably one of our most iconic American traits, to rush to the aid of our fellow man -- a tradition and a vital need that my colleagues and I are determined to see survive. Please join us.
For more information, visit www.weneedfirefighters.com or text the word “Firefighter” to 88799.
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