SOUTHINGTON, Conn. (WTNH) — Many fire departments around Connecticut face severe shortages within their ranks. Right now, volunteer departments are struggling the most.
Volunteer firefighters make up more than 80% of the crews at 300 stations across the state, but that number is declining.
“When I came through the door, there were well over 100 firefighters,” Southington Fire Chief James Paul said. “Today, there’s under 50.”
That’s concerning considering Southington is up to 2,500 emergency calls for the year.
So, what’s behind the dwindling numbers?
”A lot of two-income families out there, kids have a lot of activities, so to devote that time…because being a volunteer firefighter is a very big time commitment,” Southington Deputy Fire Chief Scott DiBattista said.
Southington was recently awarded a federal grant, allowing the town to hire three paid firefighters. According to fire officials, another solution is mutual aid support.
“In the past, that may have been just for significant events, but now a report of a structure comes in, it may be an automatic response by a neighboring fire department or two,” State Fire Administrator Jeffrey J. Morrissette said.
In Rocky Hill, the need for volunteer firefighters is equally alarming.
Seventy-three volunteers are currently on call. The fire chief said recruitment is key to turning things around.
”Anything from social media, advertising through Pandora,” Rocky Hill Fire Chief Michael Garrahy said. “The old traditional signs out on the lawn are just not working anymore.”
Volunteers are also being offered incentives such as stipends, tax abatement, and a pension, depending on what community they work in.
As Christmas approaches, Morrissette suggested one way to help meet the demands in our communities.
“People are making new years resolutions,” Morrissette said. “What a better way to help their neighbor and consider joining their local fire department.”