The Volunteer Shortage

By Jeffrey M. Rheaume |

More than 10 years ago, I posted my strong feelings and opinion on a popular local fire service blog that if the fire service didn’t get a handle on the looming staffing shortage crisis, politicians and citizens alike would end up determining our future fate. Fast forward 10 years, and there are ominous signs that this is unfortunately becoming true. In fact, the National Volunteer Fire Council wrote in an April 2019 article about the National Fire Protection Association’s U.S. Fire Department Profile Report, “The volunteer firefighter numbers for 2016 and 2017 are the lowest recorded levels since the NFPA began the survey in 1983.”

The fire service staffing shortage has been widely documented on social media, television, radio, print media and just about everywhere else, directly in public view. An April 2019 article in Governing magazine revealed, “The number of volunteer firefighters has declined from 300,000 in the 1970s to 38,000 in 2018, according to the Pennsylvania Fire and Emergency Services Institute.” North Carolina noted a 22% decline in volunteers in the past two years alone, according to FEMA.[1] While some municipalities and states have been transparent about staffing shortfalls, some have not, which makes addressing this vital issue much more difficult. It is not uncommon in some growing rural and suburban communities to hear that more than 10 minutes have gone by before a piece of fire apparatus even signs on the air in response to an emergency incident. In the town of Preston, Connecticut, the local fire chief reported that in 2018 his chief’s vehicle was the only unit to respond on 43 occasions.[2]

“People are looking to the fire service for leadership and partnership for all aspects of emergency response.”

Andrew Baxter

Fire Chief , Charlottesville (VA) Fire Department