County fire service calling for volunteers

“It isn’t a crisis for Fairfield County…yet, but if the trend continues it will be,” said Jason Pope, the Director for Fire Services for Fairfield County.

According to statistics cited by a Dec 6, 2018 info gram from the U.S. Fire Administration, 70% of the nation’s firefighters are volunteers.  Over half of the volunteers in the country are over 40 years old. And replacements are not keeping up with demand.

Pope

“There is a generational decline in volunteerism and the reasons are multi-faceted,” said Pope. “Fairfield County is a transient community with so many of our residents leaving our area for work every day that we have fewer people at home and available during the day.  Back in the mill town days supervisors would often let employees off from work to fight local fires.

“Young people have lost a sense of community.  We typically have two-income households now with more debt and multiple jobs with less time available to volunteer.”

Pope says the problem is compounded with the different kinds of fires that occur now.

“Today’s homes are burning faster and hotter,” Pope explained. “In Fairfield County, the firefighters are like soldiers going into battle on the front lines. We were called out on over 1000 calls in 2018, and we have only 4 full time firefighters and around 120 active volunteers. Our volunteers are some of the most dedicated people you’ll fine.  It’s tough work, but also rewarding and exciting work.”

It is also a big commitment of time for the training. Twenty or thirty years ago, the basic volunteer firefighter training was 40 hours.  Today volunteers have to undergo 140 hours of training.  And a basic fire Emergency Vehicle Driver Training class is necessary just to drive the fire vehicles.

“The training at the State Fire Academy is free,” Pope said, “But it’s challenging. You do have to really want to do it,” Pope said.

“While volunteers don’t get paid,” Pope said, “they do get a small stipend of $18 for every meeting/training session and fire call they make. But that’s certainly not pay.

“Being a volunteer firefighter is about people wanting to help their neighbors. Wanting to give back to their community.  Wanting to be part of something good.  ‘Service Above Self’ is displayed on our logo patch,” Pope said with pride. “And that’s what it is.”

At its current pace, the nation, like Fairfield County, is not keeping up with the need for volunteer firefighters.

“If national trends hold true, counties and municipalities like ours will soon be having to hire 40 full time people,” said Pope.

To find out more about becoming a volunteer, visit Fairfield County Fire Service on Facebook, Instagram and on Twitter at Fairfield Co Fire or call Pope at 803-712-1070 or drop by the station at 315 S Congress St, Winnsboro.

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