In­ter­est in vol­un­teer fire­fight­ing de­creas­ing

The Standard Journal - - POLICE & FIRE - From staff re­ports Ed­i­tor Kevin Myrick and Staff Writer Melody Dareing con­trib­uted to this re­port.

The num­ber of vol­un­teer fire­fight­ers de­creased in re­cent years, forc­ing of­fi­cials to con­sider a new plan for re­spond­ing to fires in the county, ac­cord­ing to an of­fi­cial.

The county is de­bat­ing an in­creased mill­age rate to re­align fire sta­tions and have paid fire­fight­ers on duty along with vol­un­teers.

Pub­lic Safety Di­rec­tor Randy Lacey said he didn’t have ex­act num­bers on how many Polk County vol­un­teer fire­fight­ers are no longer serv­ing, but said his data shows there are nine less to fight a fire now than in 2008.

Lacey said there were 22.5 vol­un­teer fire­fight­ers re­spond­ing to an in­ci­dent in 2008, com­pared to 13 now.

The num­bers started drop­ping in 2008 when the econ­omy bot­tomed out, Lacey said.

“You’re look­ing at the econ­omy, young great guys work­ing two jobs and go­ing down to At­lanta to work,” Lacey said.

He said find­ing peo­ple to vol­un­teer be­tween 2 a.m. and 7 a.m. has been es­pe­cially prob­lem­atic be­cause many are ei­ther sleep­ing to go to work or get­ting ready for work.

A drop in vol­un­teer fire­fight­ers is a na­tion­wide prob­lem with data stat­ing there are 13 per­cent less fire­fight­ers than there was in 2008, he said.

Lacey said many older fire­fight­ers are re­tir­ing out with­out a lot of vol­un­teers to re­place them.

New state train­ing stan­dards, im­ple­mented in 2011, have dis­cour­aged some from con­tin­u­ing, Lacey said.

The num­bers show there was a sub­stan­tial drop in vol­un­teer fire­fight­ers, amount­ing to three lost fire­fight­ers for a call, in Polk County from 2011 to 2012.

The drop was more grad­ual in pre­vi­ous years and amounted to one lost fire­fighter for a call each year dat­ing back to 2008, ac­cord­ing to Lacey.

Lacey said the Polk County Vol­un­teer Fire Depart­ment re­ceives $250,000 to run its nine sta­tions an­nu­ally. Of that, $45,000 is used for equip­ment with each sta­tion al­lo­cated $5,000. The rest is used op­er­a­tions and main­te­nance, Lacey said.

The safety di­rec­tor said there are valid rea­sons why a spe­cial pur­pose sales tax (SPLOST) or a penny tax will not work to fund the fire depart­ment. He said SPLOST money must go to pay for equip­ment only and can’t pay for staffing. A penny tax could be af­fected by the econ­omy, Lacey said.

Lacey said be­com­ing a vol­un­teer fire­fighter is not an easy task. It re­quires fil­ing an ap­pli­ca­tion and un­der­go­ing a back­ground check, drug screen­ing, and an in­ter­view with po­ten­tial cap­tains and fel­low fire­fight­ers.

He said those with felonies on their records over the past 10 years are not el­i­gi­ble to serve as a vol­un­teer for the depart­ment, or if some­one has been pre­vi­ously in­ves­ti­gated.

Those ap­proved as a vol­un­teer then have a year to com­plete fire train­ing and ba­sic EMS train­ing, are given turnout gear.

“It’s like you’re ap­ply­ing for a job,” he said. “There are a lot of state guide­lines we have to go through in or­der for some­one to vol­un­teer, be­cause we re­ceive state and fed­eral grant money.”

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