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More work, less help: Laurel struggling to find volunteer firefighters as calls increase

More work, less help: Laurel struggling to find volunteer firefighters as calls increase
Posted at 5:33 PM, Apr 01, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-01 19:33:50-04

LAUREL — To have a full roster at the Laurel Volunteer Fire Department, 45 people must be available to respond to calls.

The LVFD only has 29 volunteers, which is too low for comfort for the department as many calls see a response of only a few firefighters.

More work, less help: Laurel struggling to find volunteer firefighters as calls increase

“Over the last year, there have been several moments where even squad (truck) rolls out the door with just two guys in the seats, and that puts a pit in your stomach,” KC Bieber, an operations captain, said on Saturday.

In 2023, the LVFD responded to 413 emergency calls. That is up 38% from 2014, when firefighters responded to 299 calls.

More work, less help: Laurel struggling to find volunteer firefighters as calls increase

“This huge difference with a drop in volunteer firefighters but an increase in calls,” Jonathan Gotschall, the LVFD public relations officer, said. “A lot of those older generation firefighters started to retire, and it's just been harder and harder for every volunteer fire department to get volunteers.”

While the fire department has not missed responding to a call since its creation in 1909, it is now mostly made up of men and women who work Monday-Friday, 9-5 jobs, which can make it difficult to respond to calls.

More work, less help: Laurel struggling to find volunteer firefighters as calls increase

Businesses within the city have a "second-page rule", which is an agreement with their employees who are volunteer firefighters that if the department needs more help and sends out a second page, the volunteers can leave their jobs to help, according to Bieber.

Many of the volunteers don't work at businesses in Laurel, though.

“I’m not sure how much longer we’ll be able to stay 100% volunteer, but it’d be a huge cost to the taxpayers and the city to have a full-time, paid fire department,” said Fire Chief JW Hopper.

To be a volunteer, you must live within a 2-mile radius of the fire districts and be 18 or older. The agency will accept high school volunteers who have good grades and are 18 years old.

“I know everybody here enjoys the fact that the job they do is bigger than themselves,” Beiber said.