Indiana volunteer fire departments struggling with recruitment

TRAFALGAR, Ind. – The U.S. Fire Administration said volunteer fire departments across the country are facing a “recruitment crisis.”

According to the federal agency, 70 percent of firefighters in the country are volunteers, and national volunteer numbers have been going down. With fewer people staffing departments, it believes communities are more vulnerable.

"They want to help," said Tom Tharpe, chief of Trafalgar Fire Rescue. "They want to be a part of it."

Chief Tharpe said there are 25 men who work for them now but only six of them consistently go on calls. He still felt his department was one of the lucky ones because their response times have not been affected.

"A lot of the members live here in town. I’ve got two who live across the street here and I’ve got a couple more that live in another neighborhood," he said.

There was no one at the fire house Tuesday afternoon because most of his crew works full-time jobs to pay the bills. Without a pay check, Chief Tharpe said it is difficult for departments to recruit firefighters.

"Donate one or two hours in a week. It doesn’t seem like a lot but it is a lot especially if you have kids," said Chief Tharpe.

Paul Holcomb, President of the Indiana Volunteer Firefighters Association, said they have been fighting for a tax credit in the state legislature but they have not had any luck.

"It always comes to the funding. Where is the funding going to come from?" Holcomb said.

The number of volunteer firefighters per 1,000 population is decreasing, although there was an uptick in 2015 according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Since many families rely on these volunteers, Trafalgar Fire Rescue wants something done soon.

"It's all about the money. We have to come up with it somehow someway," Chief Tharpe said.

The Indiana Fire Chiefs Association is applying for a grant through FEMA. They hope the roughly $1 million will help with recruiting and retention.

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