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Last updated on Thursday, June 14, 2012
(UNDATED) - Volunteer firefighters are disappearing across Central Indiana.
Kent Erdahl of Fox59 reports that in Northern Hamilton County, a group of small, primarily volunteer fire departments have been fighting a losing battle for years.
"Arcadia had its own fire department a few years ago and couldn't keep it going," said Washington Township trustee Christina Miller. "They actually drove their trucks down to this station and then Jackson Township took over."
Miller oversaw another consolidation with Atlanta last year, forming the Jackson Fire Territory, but the problem isn't going away.
The Jackson Fire Territory covers 55 square miles, or roughly 20 percent of Hamilton County. There is currently a roster of just 12 volunteers to help cover that area. The fire chief said a full roster should have at least 30 volunteers.
"There's two questions there. How many do you have on the roster and how many people are actually able and show up?" Miller said. "Generally there's a huge difference."
Jackson Fire Territory Chief Steve White said the volunteer shortage is happening all over the state, and he said the economy is often the easiest explanation.
"If people are not going to be at home, they are going to be working at a secondary job to supplement their income," White said. "When you volunteer, the most you can expect is, by law, $200 annually just to be a volunteer firefighter."
To compensate, understaffed departments are calling for more and more mutual aid from their neighbors. White said that increases response times and risk.
"It's not uncommon to drain those other communities, two or three communities away, to get enough people to safely and effectively extinguish a fire," White said.
"I worry about safety all the time," Miller said. "Not just for the person that we're helping, that's obvious, but I worry about my firefighters. They rely on the person that's next to them and they're putting their lives in their hands."
Jackson Township is now seeking federal grants to help recruit and train volunteer firefighters and EMTs. Miller said medical emergencies account for about 80 percent of the runs, but firefighter/EMT volunteers need more than 400 hours of training.
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