SOUTHINGTON — Fire department and town officials on a newly-formed committee are working to recruit more volunteer firefighters and reverse a trend of declining membership.
The committee, which met for the second time on Tuesday, discussed ways to publicize the need for volunteers.
John Moise, a fire board member and recruitment committee chairman, said many people think the fire department is either all volunteer or all career. It is a mixture of both, with career firefighters at two stations and volunteers at the others.
“A lot of people think it’s one or the other,” Moise said.
Battalion Chief Eric Heath, a committee member, agreed.
“We can’t do without both,” he said.
While volunteer firefighters are on the committee, none were in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting. Al Urso Sr., a former volunteer, is on the committee and was present.
Chris Poulos, a Town Council member, said he believes there’s “tension” between volunteer and career firefighters. He was disappointed that volunteers weren’t at the meeting to offer ideas to increase recruitment and retention.
“I want them to feel they are fully involved,” Poulos said.
The committee postponed further discussion on some aspects of recruitment until volunteers could weigh in. Committee members discussed how the department could have a presence at upcoming events, recruit high school students, organize information online and distribute flyers with the benefits and expectations of volunteering.
Urso said he’d like to have flyers to hand out in his neighborhood and thought they could be handed out at events and gatherings.
The department has fewer than 80 volunteers. This summer it hired two new career firefighters in part to increase coverage during the day, when volunteers are least available.
Fire officials have said that busier schedules and less flexible jobs have hurt volunteer firefighter recruiting efforts nationwide. But local fire officials said the town can’t afford an all-paid force and depends on volunteers to meet the town’s fire service needs.