Shortage of Volunteer Firefighters Threatens Fire Departments’ Existence

Without enough volunteers to respond to emergencies, some fire departments are cutting services or even shutting down. Most are changing the way they recruit.

Caroline Cournoyer |

When Jeff Cash became a volunteer firefighter 40 years ago, fire departments often kept waiting lists of people looking to join up. Those were the good old days. Cash is now chief of the Cherryville, N.C., fire department and bemoans the challenge of keeping volunteer slots filled.

“Volunteers are not easy to get,” he says. “And they’re difficult to retain. The baby boomers are aging out, and the newer generation doesn’t have that sticking power that the generations did before.”

In the last two years, the number of volunteer firefighters in North Carolina dropped by about 1,200 — a roughly 22 percent decline, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).



“There are fire companies shutting down all over the state,” says Pennsylvania state Rep. Steve Barrar, co-chair of the legislature’s emergency preparedness committee. “This is not just a statewide crisis. This is a national crisis.”

Rep. Steve Barrar