KILLINGWORTH, Conn. (WTNH) — It’s an alarming problem being felt all over Connecticut — a shortage of volunteer firefighters. The truth is in the numbers.
According to the Connecticut Fire Chiefs Association, there are 300 fire departments and 26,000 firefighters throughout the state. A whopping 83% of those firefighters are volunteer. Without these men and women:
“We would be in big trouble,” said Fred Dudek of the Connecticut Fire Chiefs Association. He’s in charge of recruiting and retaining volunteer firefighters. He tells News8 a big problem is recruiting younger volunteer firefighters, like Reed Sturman in Killingworth.
“I’m 26 years old and I’m the only person — I went to school in this town — and I’m the only person in my grade for this entire department,” Reed said.
Fred believes one big issue that hurts recruiting efforts is affordable housing in towns that rely on volunteer firefighters. He also says his association is now starting to rely on social media and special events across Connecticut celebrating volunteer firefighters — where departments hold events to reach out to the community and try to attract interested residents.
Volunteer Firefighter Day is part of EverydayHeroCT — a campaign that’s part of a Volunteer workforce Solutions initiative to address the problem. It’s funded by a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant by FEMA. They’ve been holding those events for a few years now in Connecticut.
In order to become a volunteer firefighter, you must be at least 18; you have to pass an intense physical; and pass a physical operational test and a written test. Reed says those tests push you — especially the physical ones — but if you can pass them, the satisfaction is worth it.
“It’s tough,” he said. “A lot of people don’t realize how tough or what they sign themselves into. You definitely get the reward of giving back,” Reed said.
Then there’s also the time you give up at home because when you’re a volunteer firefighter, you do give up a lot of your time.
“You have to make a certain number of meetings, of training every year, you have to make a certain number of calls to be in good standing with the department,” Reed said.
The First Selectman of Reed’s town of Killingworth says the Volunteer Fire Company there is essential to not only keeping residents safe, but they also help with the quality of life in so many ways because they choose to serve and protect without monetary compensation. That money allows the town to put resources into other programs and services.
“It is totally crucial for our town,” said Selectman Catherine Iino. “First of all, if we had to have a fire company we’d have to have employees in the fire company — it would shoot our budget to hell.”