LOCKINGTON, Ohio (WDTN) — A recent report from the Ohio Volunteer Fire Service Task Force revealed a slew of challenges plaguing volunteer fire departments across the state.
John Adams has been the chief of the Lockington Volunteer Fire Department for the last 16 years. It is a small department outside of Piqua, but he said they play a large role in public safety.
“We’ve seen some increase. People seem to call for more things than they used to. And also we’re running more mutual aid with the cities on both sides of us due to their problems of staffing,” Chief Adams said.
Chief Adams said their biggest challenge has been finding enough volunteers.
“It’s become a struggle. Folks are busy at home. Everybody’s got kids and things, and kids are involved in more activities. And it’s become a struggle to get people to be interested in coming and joining,” Chief Adams said.
This is not unique to Lockington. Volunteer fire departments make up 70 percent of all fire departments in Ohio, and many people do not realize they are being served by a volunteer department. According to the Task Force’s report, these departments are having a difficult time recruiting, finding funding for equipment and operating costs, and dealing with different training needs.
Kevin Reardon is the Ohio State Fire Marshal.
“They have challenges that full time, big city fire departments don’t have. They’re on the scene a lot longer by themselves. They get to the scene later. So the fire is much more developed than in an urban setting,” Reardon said.
He said another big factor is the decline in volunteerism.
“Over time, those numbers have started to shrink. There’s a lot of demand for the time of people right now, and we’re kind of in an era right now where volunteerism is not a real popular thing, not just here in Ohio, but nationwide,” Reardon said.
The state is hoping to reverse this trend before it gets worse. Reardon said the Task Force laid out a list of recommendations for Governor Mike DeWine and the state legislature. Some of those recommendations include hiring a full time volunteer fire coordinator with the fire marshal’s office, more money for recruitment campaigns, more grant money for equipment and training, and incentives for volunteers, like tax credits and tuition vouchers.
“It’s obvious we need to do something to help compensate volunteers in some way, shape or form, whether it be a tax credit at the local level or something a little bit higher at the state level. We’ve got to look at incentives to keep people in the volunteer status that they’re in,” Reardon said.
Chief Adams said he is glad the state is taking steps to fix these issues, and he hopes this will make a difference in the long run.
“It can’t hurt. And it would be nice to see the folks that are here and giving their time get something in return for it,” Chief Adams said.
To read the full report from the Volunteer Fire Service Task Force, click here. To learn more about becoming a volunteer firefighter, click here.