WINNEBAGO COUNTY, Ill. (WTVO) – Many local fire departments depend on volunteers to protect their communities, but like many businesses right now, most of those departments are hanging help wanted signs.
In the case of fire departments however, this is not a new experience, and two local chiefs said that finding and keeping good volunteer firefighters can be a tall order.
The Rockton and North Park Fire Protection Districts held a joint badge-pinning ceremony Friday night, where each department welcomed four new recruits. North Park Fire Chief Joel Hallstrom said that they are helping to fill a critical need.
“This is a huge deal for us, and we hope we get to keep them around for a number of years,” Hallstrom said. “The demand for firefighters, professionally, for career departments is still there. The number of people competing for those spots has lessened. We lose people quicker than we ever have. Ten years ago, we might’ve had people that gave us four or five years before they moved on to a career job, now it might only be a year or two, so that turnover is quicker.”
Hallstrom is not the only one experiencing this problem. Stillman Valley Fire Chief Chad Hoefle said that it is a common problem for small departments, where they will help young firefighters grow, only to see them move on to a full-time position.
“A lot of times, we see somebody get certified, they get trained to the point where we can use them fully 100%, and then they find a job elsewhere, because that’s what’s going to take care of their family,” Hoefle said.
The quick turnover means that the search for new volunteers is almost never-ending for Hoefle and Hallstrom.
“Really, at the end of the day, when you’re out there helping people, it’s a great job. Service above self is absolutely something that I don’t think can be replaced,” Hoefle said.
“It’s a thankless job on some occasions, but it is also the most engaging, interesting and fulfilling thing you can ever do,” Hallstrom added.
Both chiefs said that they are always encouraging people who are thinking about a career in the fire service to stop in and apply.