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Departments in need of volunteer firefighters

Across the county, state and nation, volunteer fire departments are in need of members.

Wednesday, June 27, 2001

Across the county, state and nation, volunteer fire departments are in need of members. In the United States the number of volunteers dropped by 99,350 from 1983 to 1999, according to the National Fire Protections Association’s most recent data. Seventy-four percent of the country’s fire departments are made up of volunteers.

Ohio’s volunteers have decreased in number by 5,000 since 1990, the state fire marshal’s office estimated, and approximately 77 percent of the departments are staffed at least in part by volunteer firefighters.

In Lawrence County, where 15 of the 16 fire departments are made up of volunteers, the number of firefighters has remained fairly steady over the years, but more volunteers are still needed.

Most local volunteer fire departments have approximately 20 volunteers, County 911 coordinator Don Mootz said.

Dale Waugh, Elizabeth Township Volunteer Fire Department (VFD) chief, said his 17-member crew could use eight or 10 more members.

"A lot of them work, and we’re lucky to get four or five out on a call," he said.

Other local volunteer fire departments are in similar situations, Waugh said.

"I’ve talked to other chiefs, and they need volunteers as bad as we do."

To make up for the lack of available firefighters at individual departments, the county’s volunteer fire departments have a mutual aid agreement. If a department needs more man power or equipment, available members of the nearest department respond.

Despite the cooperation and dedication among many current firefighters, more are needed, Donnie Christian, Windsor Township VFD chief, said.

"We need people who are dedicated," he said.

The Windsor Township VFD usually has about 19 members, but that changes about every two months, Christian said.

Some people join expecting recognition and excitement, and these are disappointed, Christian said.

Several chiefs said there is a particular need for volunteers available during the day, when most people are at work.

Additionally, it is difficult to persuade others to join the fire department.

"It’s getting really tough to get people to volunteer," Dewey Dearfield, Perry Township VFD chief, said. "A lot of people are a little afraid of it."

Some are intimated because they do not know what fire fighting entails and do not know the other people, he said.

People are generally less involved in their communities today, Waugh said.

"Most people use the excuse that they don’t have time to volunteer, but I don’t have time either," Dearfield said.

The need for firefighters does not keep the county’s fire departments from responding, Mootz said.

However, more volunteers still would be appreciated. "The more resources we have the easier it is to respond," he said.

Some groups are making an effort to invite others to join. The Perry Township VFD runs a classified, and Christian said the Windsor Township VFD encourages people to join when they have door-to-door fund raising each year.

Also the Ohio fire marshal’s office is advertising through television and radio and promotions at expositions like the Ohio State Fair.