According to the U.S. Fire Department Profile Through 2010, an annual report that was recently issued by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), there were 44,000 fewer volunteer firefighters in 2010 compared to 2009, a reduction of 5.4 percent. The loss of volunteers is primarily coming in communities with populations of 2,500 or fewer, which were protected by 377,550 firefighters in 2010 compared with 408,550 in 2009, a drop of approximately 7.6 percent.
The lower number of firefighters is only part of the problem, and maybe not even the most troubling. For the seventh year in a row, the percentage of firefighters over the age of 40 serving in communities of 2,500 or less rose. 51.2 percent of firefighters in our nation’s smallest communities were over 40 in 2010, and fully 28.7 percent were over the age of 50. The percentage of firefighters over 50 years old serving communities of 2,500 or less has risen every year since 2000, when it stood at 18.9. (See Chart)
The reduction in volunteer firefighter numbers combined with the persistent aging trend among firefighters protecting our nation’s smallest communities highlights the importance of re-doubling recruitment and retention efforts. A number of the National Volunteer Fire Council’s (NVFC’s) Legislative Priorities deal specifically with marshaling federal resources to assist local communities’ recruitment and retention efforts, including:
The Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant program provides funding to volunteer and combination fire departments to undertake recruitment and retention campaigns. The NVFC is extremely active in advocating on behalf of SAFER to ensure that the program is adequately funded and operates effectively.
The Volunteer Emergency Services Recruitment and Retention Act (H.R. 376/S. 1911) would clarify the federal tax treatment of length of service award programs (LOSAPs), retirement accounts for volunteer emergency responders. Firefighte can use the NVFC’s Capwiz service, an online grassroots legislative tool, to contact U.S. Representative and Senators to ask them to co-sponsor H.R. 376 and S. 1911 (http://capwiz.com/nvfc/issues/alert/?alertid=57494501).
The Volunteer Responder Incentive Protection Reauthorization Act (H.R. 2353/S. 933) would extend a federal tax exemption on certain recruitment and retention benefits that volunteer emergency responders receive as a reward for their service. Use the NVFC’s Capwiz service to ask your Representative and Senators to co-sponsor H.R. 2353 and S. 933.
In addition to working on federal legislation, the NVFC operates several national programs designed to increase the capacity of fire departments.
- The Fire Corps program assists departments in the recruitment and retention of non-operational volunteers, who perform various fire department tasks and functions, allowing firefighters to focus on emergency response.
- 1-800-FIRE-LINE is a national recruitment campaign that provides a toll-free number that anyone in the nation can call to learn about fire and emergency service volunteer opportunities in their area.
- The NVFC, in partnership with the U.S. Fire Administration, developed a Retention & Recruitment Guide that addresses the primary challenges departments face regarding recruitment and retention and outlines proven solutions to overcome these obstacles.
- The NVFC’s National Junior Firefighter Program helps volunteer departments engage young people who can potentially become active firefighters when they reach the required age.
Learn about all of these efforts and more at www.nvfc.org/resources/rr/.