Fire departments need more volunteers across West Virginia

Local News

JEFFERSON, WV (WOWK) – The state of West Virginia has 419 volunteer fire departments that operate year-round, but some of them are struggling to answer the call. That’s because of a growing shortage of volunteers.

At Jefferson Volunteer Fire Department, they have 28 volunteers on the roll. But, on a typical fire, sometimes only 6 volunteers show up. “When we’re dispatched, we might be at home asleep, we might be sitting there with family. But we get up and we come,” said Chad Smarr, a volunteer with the department.

But what would happen if nobody showed up? That’s what worries volunteer fire departments all over West Virginia. Some departments say the shortage of volunteers could cause them to shut down.

“We don’t get paid or anything we do this because we enjoy helping people and that’s our primary focus is to take care of the citizens of our community that we’re responsible for,” said Smarr.

So why aren’t people volunteering? Experts say many people are working longer hours or have other commitments. When there aren’t enough volunteers to answer the call, responders have to rely on neighboring departments. That can add to response time which hurts us all.

“There’s one study that says that Volunteer firefighters saved the state of West Virginia 550 million dollars a year in just fire protection alone, not counting what they save on their insurances,” said Tom Miller, the West Virginia Director to the National Volunteer Fire Council.

“I’ve never seen a fire that was burning on a house or a car or on a hillside ask, are you a career firefighter or volunteer firefighter. The fire doesn’t know the difference.”

Tom Miller, the West Virginia Director to the National Volunteer Fire Council

“We’re always there. It don’t matter if it’s one in the morning or two in the afternoon if someone needs us, we’re coming,” added Smarr.

You can start training to become a volunteer firefighter as young as age 16 by signing up for a junior firefighter program, where you’ll learn valuable skills, and help out the community you live in.

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