Shortage of volunteer firefighters creating challenges for rural - KPTV - FOX 12

Shortage of volunteer firefighters creating challenges for rural fire departments

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A nation-wide shortage of volunteer firefighters has rural fire departments struggling to keep up staffing levels.

In Multnomah County, Rural Fire District #14 in Corbett is currently staffed by 33 volunteers, which is 17 fewer volunteers than there were 20 years ago.

"It just puts a little more pressure on those of us that are here, that do stay. We have to all work a little harder to pick up the slack," said Dave Flood, the department's chief.

On weekdays during the day, Flood said there are usually only three or four volunteers available to respond to calls.

"On a house fire, if we don't have 14 or 15 people there within 15 minutes, we may not be able to go inside and put out the fire. We may have to stay outside," said Flood.

Corbett's volunteers usually only go on a couple calls a day, but they cover a large geographic area that includes popular attractions in the Columbia River Gorge.

"We have 5,500 residents, but we also protect everything in the Gorge up to and past Multnomah Falls. So I think there's probably an extra 20-30,000 people on the weekends that are up in our fire district," said Flood.

What's happening in Corbett reflects a national trend. Over the last 25 years, the number of volunteers hasn't kept pace with the number of fire department calls for service.

In 1990, for instance, there were 772,650 volunteer firefighters versus 13.7 million calls. By 2015, volunteer ranks had risen to 808,150, but call volume had grown to 33.6 million.

To help with recruiting, Flood has started offering more opportunities for training and career development, which opens the door for young volunteers who want to learn on the job and eventually land jobs with paid departments.

That said, Flood is also hoping to attract long-term volunteers, like Richard Weill, who started training with the department in October,

"I've lived in Corbett for 30 years," said Weill. "I probably should have done this a lot sooner."

Flood said although he can't offer a salary, he can offer prospective volunteers a firehouse camaraderie that can last a lifetime.

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