“I think we would be in a world of hurt,” said Assistant Chief Brent McBride of the South Bay Volunteer Fire Department in Thurston County. He calls volunteers, “the backbone of the fire service.”
“We are lacking. We are losing roughly 2,000 more volunteers than we recruit and train," said T.J. Nedrow of the Washington State Firefighters Association. “The state of Washington has a crisis in some areas with responders being available."
Traditionally, volunteer departments would appeal to a sense of community and civic duty to recruit. But now, in a re-tooling to attract younger members, departments are marketing themselves as a doorway to a career in the fire service.
McBride is a perfect example of how the system can work.
It was 10 years ago when McBride started volunteering as a high school senior. Today, he is an assistant chief and one of the few paid members of the department.
“We realized a lot of people are using us as a stepping stone and we are trying to capitalize on that," he says of recruiting new people to his department.
The WSFA has been awarded a grant of more than $1 million to study the problem of recruitment and retention. It is currently running ads on television, which can also be seen on its Facebook page.
For more information on how to become a volunteer firefighter, call the WSFA hotline – 1-800-FIRELINE.