Shortage of volunteer firefighters poses safety, health risk - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

Shortage of volunteer firefighters poses safety, health risk

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The locker for Malden firefighter John Appleton remains empty Tuesday.

Appleton lost his life just hours after battling a fire in Sissonville Monday. Emergency responders said Appleton collapsed on scene, then later died at CAMC General due to health complications.

Capt. Bradley Scott of the Malden Volunteer Fire Department said Appleton felt uneasy at the fire Monday. That's when he walked over to the medics who later treated him.

He said for that, he is truly grateful.

Scott hopes stepping out of the smoke is always an option for his team.

"A lot of times there's just a couple of us and we gotta keep going until more people arrive on the scene," Scott said. "A lot of times during the day, volunteer fire departments are hurting for people."

Scott said he's noticed a decline in the number of volunteer firefighters over the past few decades. He explained how this shortage endangers the safety of his first responders.

Technically, firefighters should take a break every twenty minutes, according to Scott. That's approximately how long an air tank lasts. During this time, firefighters participate in something known as "rehab."

"A lot of the ambulance services do rehab service," said Mark Stewart, an inspector with the West Virginia State Fire Marshal's Office. "They will put wet towels on the firefighters to help cool them down."

He added that paramedics are expected to be on scene for any blaze firefighters battle.

Rehab also includes hydrating by drinking bottled water kept in the engines and taking one's blood pressure just in case.

Scott stressed that a lack of manpower means firefighters have less time to recuperate, potentially causing exhaustion.

High summer temperatures only compound the health risks, especially when bunker gears adds nearly 70 pounds to a firefighter's load.

Countless firefighters visited the Malden VFD Tuesday in light of recent events. Bobby Davis from South Charleston Fire Department was one of them. He said what makes firefighters truly remarkable is knowing these risks, yet putting them aside.

"To me, it's a special breed of people," Davis said. "What keeps me going is the satisfaction of helping people. Duty calls."