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Volunteer Fire Departments Need More Heroes

Last updated on Friday, January 20, 2012

(GUTHRIE) - It takes a hero to run toward a burning building, especially if they’re not even getting a pay check.

"It's a job you do because you love it and want to help others," said Guthrie Volunteer Fire Department Chief Brian Hutchinson. "Firefighters are out all hours of the day and night. We are on call 24-hours a day and we don't get paid for it."

Many volunteer fire departments are struggling to find volunteers, not only in Lawrence County, but across the state. Guthrie has 10 firefighters on their roster.

One reason is because of the tough economic times.

"Many people are working two jobs to keep their families afloat," Hutchinson says. "It's just tough out there."

Smaller departments can't afford to pay for a staff, so they rely on residents to step up and donate their time.

But it's not easy being a volunteer, and fire officials say that makes it difficult to keep people on the job.

Another problem some firefighters work day shift, while others work afternoons and nights. The problem arises if everyone is at work and there is no one to respond to an emergency. Sometimes several departments are called out, because of the lack of manpower.

"It's a different breed of people out there now. I mean they're not willing to give up their time in order to take the training and be a volunteer firefighter," says Assistant Fire Chief Kirk Pickens, of St. Bernice Fire Department near Dana. "Everybody is created equal between careers and volunteer. We do the same amount of training from beginning to end. Each certification is the same, they just get paid and we don't."
And the rural community departments have to rely on other departments for assistance when handling a big fire.

"If we didn't have the surrounding departments for mutual aid, we'd be in serious trouble," says Hutchinson. "Mutual aid provides more manpower and equipment, saving thousands of dollars in property damage and possibly saving lives."

Lawrence County has an automatic mutual aid agreement, meaning two departments always are called to a structure fire.

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