OH County Is Battling a Firefighter Shortage

Cambridge OH firefighters operate at the scene of a September 2021 fire

Kristi R. Garabrandt

The Daily Jeffersonian, Cambridge, Ohio


Oct. 13—Guernsey County is facing a shortage of paid and volunteer firefighters and first responders. Training is taking place at the Byesville Volunteer Fire Department to help increase the number of volunteer firefighters in the county.

Tim Milner said the training covers the bare minimum as required by the state , but it’s enough to allow students to obtain their firefighter cards if they pass the exam. Those who wish pursue additional training as a first responder can do so one they’ve joined a fire department, he added.

The fire training offers hands-on training as well as classroom instruction, said Miler, who is the assistant fire chief of Cambridge Fire Department and an instructor of adult education at Mid-east Ohio Vocational School.

“The need is tremendous for volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel throughout the county, state and nation,” Jeremy Rice, assistant fire chief of the Byesville Volunteer Fire Department said. Volunteer firefighting is starting to diminish as departments are switching to a paid service, he added.

Of the 13 fire departments in Guernsey County, 12 of them are volunteer. The Cambridge Fire Department is operated through the city and members are paid.

The New Concord Village fire department is a combination of paid and volunteer staff, to ensure a squad is available when needed, Milner said.

When Milner took a test to join the Cambridge Fire Department in 1989, about 150 candidate took the written test. The last time the department administered a written test, in September , there were approximately 12 candidates.

“For some reasons that doesn’t seem to be a career field people want to get into anymore,” Milner said. “Law enforcement has the same issues and they are not getting the candidates that they used to go get.”

In a situation where minutes matter, a shortage like this could pose a risk for those in need of help.

“Delays are an issue when minutes matter and allows for things to escalate,” Milner said. “When you get farther out into the county in some of the rural areas it can be worse since it’s a farther distance to travel.”

If a local fire department doesn’t have the manpower to respond, dispatchers call upon another department for mutual aid, , according to Milner. The volunteer departments in the county help cover each other with emergencies arise.

Relying on mutual aid can often result in delays, as well as volunteers must travel to their stations before responding.

Milner said the difficulty lies in finding people who are willing to make a commitment when they are not financially compensated.

“The number of responders are diminishing and the calls are continuing to rise,” Rice said. “This puts added stress and strain on the individuals that chose to be a part of this profession. Individuals give up time with their families and loved ones to protect and serve the community.

“Being a first responder is not always just getting on a truck and responding to emergencies,” Rice said. “There are several aspects of training that are involved in becoming a firefighter and also an EMT. We train constantly and work together as a team to accomplish a common goal.”

Byesville Volunteer Fire Department is hosting a 36-hour training course on Sundays for four weeks. There are 15 participants, from multiple Guernsey County fire departments.

Those interested in joining the Byesville Fire Department can contact Rice or Chief Tim Haren at 740- 685-6222. For other departments Milner said the best course of action is to reach out to individual departments, which typically pays for the training.

“Signing up to be a volunteer is a commitment and takes dedication. Being a volunteer firefighter or EMT it has its ups and downs but the benefits definitely are rewarding,” Rice said. “Whether it be seeing that patient start breathing again or putting that fire out, there are endless rewards for this profession.

“The fire department atmosphere promotes that teamwork, bonding and trust,” Rice added. “To be a first responder is a commitment to the village or city that you are protecting, the citizens of that village and also the department itself.”

“The shortage of volunteer firefighters, it’s just like any other problem. If you sit back and complain it doesn’t get fixed,” Milner said. “The only way we can make this better is for people to come and try it. You might find out that you like it and you might find out that some of that time you are giving is some of the best time of your life.


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