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Volunteers in short supply for rural Arkansas fire departments


"Our volunteers are eager to respond to calls, but recruiting new volunteers is difficult,” said Travis Cooper, secretary for the Arkansas Rural and Volunteer Firefighters Association.


In addition to struggles with rising equipment costs, increases in emergency calls and keeping up with new training, Arkansas volunteer fire departments are facing challenges with recruiting new members.

It’s a trend the state’s 900 volunteer departments have seen for the past decade, and as current volunteer firefighters age there is a smaller pool of replacements, said Travis Cooper, secretary for the Arkansas Rural and Volunteer Firefighters Association.

The average age of an Arkansas volunteer firefighter is between 60 and 65, according to Cooper.

“Our volunteers are eager to respond to calls, but recruiting new volunteers is difficult,” he said. “I still get young people who are not aware of the concept of volunteering. They think someone is going to get paid to do it. They don’t realize the individual who works at Wal-Mart or somewhere else is also a volunteer firefighter.”

Curtis Miller, the fire chief of the Philadelphia Volunteer Fire Department in Craighead County, recently held a recruitment drive to re-man his department of about 20 members. He posted information on the department’s Facebook page and talked with others.

It worked. Miller said four new firefighters joined his department as a result.

“It’s hard recruiting,” said Miller, who has been with the Fire Department for 40 years. “A lot of people, when they come in, are expecting excitement all the time. They think they will be putting out a lot of fires.

“When they find out it’s more humdrum, and they’re not going on fire calls often, they get out. Unless they are vested in their communities, they’re not interested enough to stick with it.”

Those who are interested may not be able to volunteer, Cooper said.

Many potential recruits leave rural towns for jobs in cities and are not available to battle fires, and others who remain in their communities may have two jobs and little time to volunteer.

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