There are an estimated 26,800 firefighters in Connecticut, and 22,350 of them — more than 80 percent — are volunteers. And yet, the ranks of volunteer firefighters have been declining for years, on both the national and state levels. Most volunteer departments in the state report shortages.
There are a number of reasons for this. Becoming a firefighter, whether volunteer or career, requires a lot of training time. Some volunteers, after a few years, decide to go for a career position in another town. There is also burnout, with calls — especially medical calls — increasing dramatically in recent years. And some volunteer firefighters simply age out of the job.
To cope with these pressures and perhaps stem the tide, the Southington Board of Fire Commissioners hopes to hire a marketing firm for $10,000 to help recruit volunteer firefighters. The Southington Fire Department has both professional and volunteer firefighters, but volunteer numbers have been dropping in recent years.
The marketing effort would be the next step in the department's recruitment campaign. Recent efforts resulted in what could be the largest incoming volunteer training class.
The department has about 70 volunteers, but it can be difficult to get volunteers to daytime calls when jobs and family responsibilities interfere. That means fire coverage and response times can suffer.
While volunteer firefighters enjoy certain protections and benefits under state law, and local tax breaks, there’s no doubting that it’s still a demanding extra job. Thus the town’s continuing efforts to increase recruitment.
Nor has word-of-mouth been overlooked: The department has a presence at community events such as the Apple Harvest Festival, and volunteers naturally talk to their friends.
All told, it’s clear that Southington is taking the trend of declining recruitment seriously and meeting it with a concerted effort.