Volunteer firefighter shortage leaves fire departments struggling

Jul 15, 2019

Volunteer firefighting has been on a decline across the nation since the 1980s. Michigan is also experiencing a shortage of volunteer firefighters.

Since 1984, the amount of people volunteering at fire departments nationally has fallen more than five percent, according to the National Volunteer Fire Council. But it also says emergency calls have tripled in the last 30 years.

Listen above to hear Stateside's full conversation with Lieutenant Michael McLeieer about the impact of the volunteer firefighter shortage. 

Lieutenant Michael McLeieer, president of the Michigan State Firemen's Association, says many local fire departments are pooling their resources to accommodate the lack of personnel.

 

“We're finding more and more people are not working in the same communities where they're living; they're actually traveling a long distance away, so they're not available during those daytime calls,” he says.

 

He says that some states such as New York have started adding incentives for paid on-call and  volunteer firefighters through reduced property taxes and tax-exempt income.

McLeieer says it’s a top priority to recruit more women so that the diversity of the department reflects the diversity of the community.

“Being a volunteer is not about what you look like, what degree you have or where you come from,” he says. “It's about one thing: do you have heart and do you care about giving back to the community?”

McLeieer says the National Volunteer Fire Council launched a website to recruit more volunteers.

“It’s not just a matter of putting up the proverbial ‘we’re looking for volunteers’ signs anymore; we have to get a lot more creative.”

 
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