Most of Washington County’s 17 volunteer fire departments are constantly looking for firefighters and emergency medical personnel, and lately at least two area VFDs have begun using roadside signs to advertise that need.
A large billboard, bearing a color photo of the company’s fire trucks and emergency squad vehicle, urges travelers along Muskingum Drive to consider joining the Devola Volunteer Fire Company. And the Oak Grove VFD has posted yard signs in that community that say “EMS & Fire volunteers needed.”
“Our biggest need is for emergency medical technicians during daytime hours,” said Brian Pratt, chief of the Oak Grove department.
He noted state law allows one EMT and one first responder to man a medical squad unit on an emergency run, but Pratt said it often requires more than two people at the scene.
“For example, two or three weeks ago there was a two-vehicle wreck near Catfish Paradise on Ohio 7 and we were called out for mutual aid,” he said. “We ended up transporting four people in our squad unit. I’d really like to have at least three personnel, including the driver, on a response.”
Pratt said Oak Grove’s firefighters were also among 85 volunteers who responded to the massive fire that destroyed Greenleaf Recycling on Ohio 7 last month.
“We got the call at noon to assist Warren VFD, and our units were at the scene until after midnight,” he said. “The crews were exhausted.”
Pratt said Oak Grove has about 30 members currently, but could use six or seven more volunteers to work as EMTs or firefighters.
“It costs us $1,200 to train a basic EMT, and a basic first responder costs $450,” he said, adding that, like other VFDs in the county, the department covers those costs.
Oak Grove firefighter Dick Sams, who has been with the department for 42 years, said due to the lack of volunteer manpower, a vehicle accident may require response from three or four VFDs.
He said obtaining volunteers was not as big an issue in the past, but now it’s more difficult for people to find the time to volunteer.
“We’ve lost a lot of industrial plants, so we don’t have as many shift workers who can cover the daytime hours,” Sams said.
“Now everyone has jobs where they may have to work during the day, and they have families to take care of at home,” he said. “And to volunteer takes some dedication, especially at first when you have to take EMT or firefighter courses to become certified.”
Jeff Lauer, director of the Washington County Emergency Management Agency, said a basic firefighter course requires about 36 hours of a volunteer’s time, then 54 more hours every three years to maintain the certification.
“And the last time we put someone through an EMT course it was 132 hours,” he said. “But the EMT also has to have more continuing education hours every year after that initial course to keep up with the training and certification.”
Lauer said county wide there are more certified volunteer firefighters than EMTs, most likely due to the amount of time it takes for certification.
“It’s not really that bad once you complete the first training. After that you just have to do a few hours each year for recertification,” he said. “But everybody’s busy today-and it often comes down to a matter of where their priorities lie.”
Austyn McVicar, 18, is one of Oak Grove VFD’s newer members.
“I’ve been here since I was 14, and started as a junior firefighter,” he said. “But I love it, just being able to serve the community. I’d tell any young person to come join and help out. It’s great, and listing work as a volunteer can help when submitting job resumes or college applications.”
McVicar and fellow firefighter Matt West will soon begin a Firefighter 1 training course through the Oak Grove VFD that could eventually lead to certification qualifying them to become paid firefighters.
“But that training will also benefit Oak Grove,” West said.
Lowell-Adams Fire and Rescue Chief Josh Harris said his department is also always in need of more volunteers.
“We’re about five or six short right now, and could use first responders and EMTs,” he said, adding that Lowell-Adams currently has a total of 34 volunteers.
Harris said the department also covers the cost of training volunteers.
“We’re more than happy to pay for the training. We just ask that they continue to run with us for a year afterward,” he said. “But it’s more and more difficult to get people who want to dedicate their time and lives to volunteer service. Many people are involved with kids and school, and don’t have time to take the required training to become an EMT or firefighter.”
The lack of volunteers has forced some volunteer fire companies to hire paid personnel, especially for coverage during daytime hours.
“We have some paid EMTs and firefighters, but still need volunteers, too,” said Dan Ritchey, chief of the Reno Volunteer Fire Department.
He said the department has about 35 people, including both paid and volunteer personnel.
“About 15 of those are paid through a township fire levy,” Ritchey said. “And we’re the only volunteer company in the county that can provide 24/7 coverage.”
Lauer said the Devola VFD also has some paid personnel.