Maintaining volunteer firefighter corps -- a national crisis
Volunteer fire departments across the nation today are faced with the enormous challenge of recruiting and retaining members. According to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), there has been a decline in the number of active volunteer firefighters nationally from a high of 897,750 in 1984 to a low of 770,100 volunteers in 1989. This trend turned around slightly over the last few years, possibly due to a patriotic surge in volunteerism following 9-11.
The most recent figures, from 2003, show 800,050 volunteer firefighters, representing 73 percent of the nation's firefighting forces. In 2004, the USFA and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) gathered volunteer fire service members from across the nation to brainstorm ways to boost the ranks of volunteers.
They found the major reasons for the falling numbers include more demands on people's time in a hectic modern society; more stringent training requirements; population shifts from smaller towns to urban centers; changes in the nature of small town industry and farming; internal leadership problems; and a decline in the sense of civic responsibility among other factors.
The departments can no longer count on the children of current members following in their parents' footsteps, or on a continuous stream of community members eager to donate their time and energy to their local volunteer fire department. Nor can they rely on members staying active in the volunteer fire service for long periods of time.
But the savings for communities maintaining a volunteer firefighting corps are substantial.
A recent cost savings study conducted by the Public Safety
and Environmental Protection Institute at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia found that the annual national savings resulting from volunteer fire services is $37.2 billion dollars. This is an average of more than $45,000 per volunteer, an enormous boost to the economy.