According to a report from KDSK, the Bethalto (IL) Village Fire Department (BVFD) is one of many of the nation’s volunteer fire departments facing a staffing shortage. The latest nationwide reports show a downward trend in volunteer firefighting members, especially in rural areas. As a result, when a large fire occurs, it often takes a mutual-aid response to extinguish the flames.
Despite most people not thinking that volunteer firefighting is a “hobby,” BVFD’s Jeffrey Bruns said that’s exactly how he sees it.
Bruns began his firefighting career at the age of 16 when he joined an explorer program. Two years later, he became a firefighter. Now, more than a decade on, he works full-time while spending about 12 or more hours a week at the BVFD, where he serves as the president of the volunteer board.
BVFD Chief Brian Buhs said that everyone’s lives being so busy is partly one of the reasons why fewer people volunteer. He has served with the BVFD for 15 years, recently taking over as its chief. He said he’s lucky to get paid less than full-time status for his service.
Buhs said the volunteers train every Monday and respond to about 120-130 calls per month, averaging 100 more calls than the previous year.
These volunteer firefighters work more than just fires; they are also their community’s only response to emergency medical calls (EMS) or motor vehicle accidents. Buhs said 90 percent of their calls are related to EMS.
Buhs said that at one time there were about 45 BVFD firefighters and a waitlist. Today, there are just 17 members, and the department is always looking for recruits.
BVFD members and other volunteers around the country do more than just fight fires and answer EMS calls–they are also involved in community outreach and fundraising campaigns. Buhs said the BVFD is fortunate to have some funding from the town, but firefighters still have to host a fundraiser each year to pay for new equipment or station upgrades.
Despite the challenges and the jokes of being a “glutton for punishment,” Buhs feels there’s no better way to serve his community.
To learn more about becoming a volunteer firefighter in Bethalto, click here.