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State officials concerned over falling number of volunteer firefighters

SALT LAKE CITY – The fire season has already begun this year in Utah.  But, there’s a growing concern among fire crews across the state over a falling number of people volunteering to put out the blazes.

The North Tooele Fire District used to have almost 50 active volunteer firefighters.  But, they’ve been transitioning to a salaried department.  Fire Chief Randy Wilden says that’s making it harder for them to find volunteers.

“When they come back to the station on a call, the full-time crew is generally out the door and on their way,” Wilden says.

According to him, a volunteer has to log 300 hours of training to become certified, and many of them pay for their own training.  “They’re all trained as EMTs and they like to go on those medical calls, but, the need is the fire calls.  If we have a structure fire, we need 25 to 30 hands on it,” he adds.

North Tooele isn’t the only agency having this problem.  Jason Curry with Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands says volunteerism has been falling steadily for a decade

“In fire service, there has been a huge impact for 50 to 60 percent decline in the volunteers, in rural Utah especially,” says Curry, adding, “They cover most of the state.  Our volunteer firefighters are the ones that get to the scene first, on most of these fires.”

Curry says if the local crews aren’t able to get to the blaze before it becomes too big to handle, it adds a lot of strain on the resources from Hot Shot crews and other fire agencies.

(Photo Credit: KSL file)