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Va. Chiefs hope to light a fire under would-be volunteers

Posted at 4:58 PM, Oct 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-21 07:08:43-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- The Virginia Fire Chiefs Association's new "You've Seen Us" campaign has a goal to reverse a decline in volunteer firefighters.

"What numbers we're looking at since 1985, we've seen a 10% decline in personnel wanting to become volunteers," said VFCA President and Loudoun County Fire Chief Keith Johnson. "That can be higher in some areas and lower in others."

"In the volunteer ranks, we have all positions open year-round," Goochland County Fire-Rescue and Emergency Services Chief Eddie Ferguson said.

Leaders with Goochland Fire and Rescue said at their peak they had around 300 volunteers in the 90s and are down to about 171 now. The once all-volunteer department started adding career fighters in 2009 -- and they number around 60.

"Our county is growing and developing at a rapid pace, our call volume is also increasing," Ferguson said. "We do need more volunteer personnel to answer the calls."

Hanover Fire & EMS Chief Jethro Piland told CBS 6 his department had seen a 10% decrease in volunteers in each of the last five years and currently have 194 active members. He added they have hired an additional 45 people to supplement the decline in volunteer numbers — with 229 career personnel with the department.

Chiefs told the CBS 6 Problem Solvers that the issue was not at the point where it would impact their ability to respond to calls, but volunteers are vital in responding to all types of emergencies.

"We need everyone we have working on the same team as a combination Fire Rescue department to get the job done safely and efficiently," Ferguson said,

Most chiefs pointed to the time commitment - both on the job and training - as the main reason for the decline in volunteers.

"Some 39 years ago when I started, it basically took a couple of fire classes and got on a unit and, and you know, you're good to go as a firefighter," Chief Keith Johnson, President of the Virginia Fire Chiefs Association, said.

Officials said while most new volunteers come from referrals they hoped the new campaign would spark interest among those who might consider giving it a go.

"It's a very challenging, but rewarding thing to do with your time," Ferguson said.