Local fire departments facing shortage of volunteer firefighters

Local News

Winnebago County, Ill. (WTVO) — Local fire departments say they need residents to join up as volunteers as they face a labor shortage.

“I don’t know if it’s a crisis or not, [but] there’s certainly a shortage,” said Win-Bur-Sew Fire Chief Robert Martin. “People are getting by.”

In some smaller communities, there’s a desperate push to recruit people to become volunteer firefighters.

“We always have a struggle of trying to keep people, because they’re not working here full time and receiving pay and benefits full-time, and some of them want to do that,” Chief Martin said.

Cherry Valley Firefighter Shaun Branney said, “To get these people to stay, and not be able to pay them as much as they are worth to do the job, it’s tough to get people to stay and want to volunteer.”

Branney started his career as a volunteer with the Cherry Valley Fire Department. Now working full-time, Branney said that serving his community initially came at a steep price.

“A lot of these people — it’s a volunteer job. You’re still working full-time elsewhere, and you’ve got to make ends meet. So, being able to come in and devote some time, it can be tough,” he said.

Firefighters are paid from funds collected by property taxes, and many leave for full-time work at larger departments.

“While we don’t like to lose any good people, it’s always fun to see people go on and achieve their goals,” Chief Martin said.

Most volunteer fire departments provide on the job training.

“Aside from running fire calls or 9-1-1 emergency calls, we’re doing a lot with just being a good public advocate and going out there and letting them know what services we can provide, but also preventing some of the issues that we have going on,” Branney said.

The fire departments are looking from medical personnel to stills photographers. Many departments are currently in the recruiting process or will begin so in the Fall.

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