Many local fire companies, including Carlisle Fire Company in Milford, are reporting that individual volunteering for fire service are dropping in numbers, leading to a shortage of volunteer firefighters in the area. According to Ryan Knowles, President of Carlisle Fire Company, the shortage is significant.
“With so many other activities for younger adults, families just starting out, it is hard for Carlisle to keep the interest of one who joins,” Knowles said. “The fire service today has a high demand for several hours of training, even just starting out, it ties up three of your weekends right from the start. This can also be difficult due to many who work weekends now as part of their full-time job or if they must work a part-time job.”
Mr. Knowles said that the fire service notices the shortage more during working daytime hours. In the past, members who worked in the area were allowed to leave for alarms as part of their company policy. That provided significant manpower for Carlisle when fires occurred during the day. However, Mr. Knowles said that many members now work out of town and are unable to respond. Employers are also not able to allow employees to leave work for alarms which can take several hours to resolve. He said that even in the evening, many volunteers have family activities that require their attendance, such as children’s sporting events or school functions. He also said that shift work can have an effect on how many volunteers may report for an alarm.
Almost every company in the Delaware is experiencing shortages in volunteers, Mr. Knowles said. He said that some smaller companies may have a larger population of retired volunteers who can cover alarms during the day or may have better options for manpower during daylight hours. The problem faced by Carlisle, however, is that they average 500 alarms per year while smaller companies may only average between 100 and 200. This means the lack of volunteers is more obvious in a company like Carlisle than in smaller companies.
Some volunteer firefighters have complained that companies vote in members for their volunteer organization. Some, who did not want to be named, said that a few local companies will deny membership for personal reasons. This leads many young people not to attempt membership as they believe they will not be voted in as a new member. Mr. Knowles said that this is not an issue with Carlisle.
“In my 24 years of fire service, I cannot recall one recommended person who has not been brought in for the apprenticeship program,” Mr. Knowles said. “I believe Carlisle gives everyone a fair chance through the program. We screen our applicants to ensure we are bringing in an upstanding citizen in the Milford community to serve our company well. This is where the background checks and references come into play. If a member does not get voted in, it is usually for a very good reason and not a personal one. A membership vote is decided by the entire membership in attendance, not just one person.”
Mr. Knowles said that applications submitted to Carlisle vary each year and commends the Delaware State Fire Service recruitment and retention committee for the wonderful job they do in advertising for all of Delaware fire companies in order to get people to learn more about volunteering. He said that he believes Carlisle is averaging about six applications per year.
The biggest benefit to volunteering for the fire company is the service provided to the community, Mr. Knowles said. There are no health benefits and no pay, he said, but the Delaware Fire Service prides itself on companies being volunteer driven. Each year, active members receive a tax credit on their Delaware tax returns and have the option of enrolling in a pension program that is accessible at retirement age. Mr. Knowles said that there are many different volunteer positions available, not just firefighting. He says that only 30 percent of the membership actually goes in to fight fires. There are administrative positions available as well as volunteers who perform fire prevention programs or help with fund raising functions like barbecues or dinners.
“We encourage anyone who wants to apply to come in and take a tour of the station,” Mr. Knowles said. “Look at our gear and our equipment. Talk to our members about their experiences. If one feels they would like to be a part of our company, complete and submit an application for membership.” Interested individuals can learn more on their website at www.carlisle42.com.
Once the application is completed, including a criminal background check from the State of Delaware, the applicant must undergo a physical and submit the results to the company. The membership committee reviews the application and a decision is made whether to recommend the applicant to the full membership at their monthly meeting. A vote is taken of the membership to decide whether to allow the applicant to become an apprentice member.
“When you join a Delaware fire company, you join a family,” Mr. Knowles said. “You inherit brothers and sisters, and sometimes lifelong friends. It is a dangerous job and you depend on each other when lives are at stake.”
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