Volunteer Fire Departments in Need of Firefighters

By KBJR News 1

May 20, 2013 Updated May 21, 2013 at 12:45 PM CDT

Douglas County, WI (NNCNOW.com) - Many of the agencies that responded to the Germann Road Fire last week were staffed with volunteer firefighters.

These men and women fought to save homes and risked their lives, often while not even getting paid.

It's a tough job and one that can sometimes be tough to fill.

"Just in general, there's a lot to it. It's not that you're just a volunteer. There's a lot of training, there's a lot of time," said Gordon Fire Chief, Mike Chmielecki.

Chmielecki says while he hasn't experienced any shortage of volunteer firefighters at the Gordon Fire Department, he does understand the stress of balancing the intense volunteer work with a full-time job and family.

"Getting volunteers today is extremely difficult; lifestyles are so busy for the young families," said Keith Kesler, Director of Douglas County Emergency Management.

Kesler has been Fire Chief of the Brule Fire Department for 35 years and says he's seen the number of volunteer firefighters dwindle and age.

"My department has a lot of folks that are nearing the end of their career and there are no people standing in line to replace them," he said.

Kesler says the shrinking numbers are partly because of increasingly busy lifestyles that leave little or no time to volunteer. Additionally, most volunteer departments are in rural areas, where there are fewer people to volunteer.

"It really doesn't matter whether you're in a community of 500 or 50,000. If a house catches on fire, it takes the same staff, it takes the same equipment to extinguish that fire," Kesler said.

For instance, Kesler says for most townships in Northwest Wisconsin it takes about 10 percent of the population to provide the necessary fire and EMS services. For metropolitan areas, it only takes about .001 of the population.

There are incentives to try to get people to join the volunteer ranks, like a retirement fund for anyone who has served 20 years in a department.

The annual 'Be Somebody' campaign put on by Bayfield and Douglas Counties attempts to recruit volunteers.

The 'Be Somebody' campaign will take place this year from 2:30 to six p.m. on May 31st at the Brule fire Hall.

Written for the web by Jennifer Austin.