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Ind. Fire Departments Struggling To Find, Retain Volunteers

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Fire departments across the country are struggling to recruit volunteers. (WFIU/WTIU News)

Fire departments across the country are struggling to find enough volunteers to meet the demands of their communities. In Indiana, some city leaders are working to provide incentives to bring in more recruits.

Mike Harkness is president of the Paoli Town Council. He says right now, their community only has 12 volunteer firefighters on staff – and no full-timers.

“And you know, age plays a factor,” Harkness says. “I think in our department the average age is 44.”

According to the National Volunteer Fire Council, the number of volunteers hit a low in 2011. That number has grown slightly since then, but it isn’t enough to meet demand. On top of that, the NVFC says the number of calls a department receives has tripled in the past 30 years.

Harkness says there are a few reasons for the drop in volunteers. He says the training is takes a lot of time, and potential volunteers have to drive multiple hours to reach certified training facilities.

“45 to 50 miles, and it’s done every evening,” Harkness says. “So people aren’t going to work all day.”

Training new recruits is also expensive. The NVFC says it costs around $20,000 just to train and equip one new volunteer.

But Harkness says his community is trying to provide incentives to bring in new volunteers. That includes proposed legislation to provide a 5 percent tax break for firefighters.

“We’re a state with a surplus,” Harkness says. “So maybe we ought to start looking at helping out a little bit.”

Harkness says the legislation was initially proposed in 2015, but it didn’t get a hearing.

Harkness says there will be a meeting to discuss the proposal on July 26. He says Indiana Rep. Trey Hollingsworth will attend, along with several city and state officials

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