It took a long time to get there, but Southington has hired two new career firefighters.
The Board of Fire Commissioners has repeatedly asked for the funding, and now the Southington Fire Department has hired a volunteer lieutenant from Company 3 and a career firefighter from Cromwell.
Fire Chief Richard Butler said they’ll start training in August and will be ready for shifts in December. This will help offset some overtime and increase crew efficiency, Butler said. The two firefighters will allow some shifts to go from six, the department minimum, to seven, he said.
This is very good news.
But the town is also looking to add volunteer firefighters. Several months ago, two career firefighters were sent to staff Company 5 on River Road, and the remaining volunteers were sent to Company 1. Other departments, such as Meriden’s, have also seen fit to move career firefighters around to bolster formerly all-volunteer companies.
Surprisingly, in this fast-paced country, an estimated seven out of 10 American firefighters are volunteers. This makes sense, especially in rural areas and very small towns. But, according to the National Volunteer Fire Council, about a third of small-town volunteer firefighters are over 50. Some are in their 60s or 70s.
It’s a sign of the times: Southington, like many other towns in New England and across the country, has been having trouble attracting volunteer firefighters. Driving around on the state’s back roads, it is not unusual to see a volunteer firehouse with a sign out front, seeking new members.
The Southington fire board has set up a group that will be addressing volunteer recruitment and retention.
“The department is starting into a very aggressive recruitment drive,” Butler said. “We’re hoping our numbers will come up.”
We wish the chief well in that effort.