Shortage Of Fire Fighters Threatens Fire Department

Judy Kramer
County Reporter
Mike Burge, a firefighter at Osage Valley Fire Protection District, was so concerned by the low number and advanced ages of the district’s firefighters, that he got permission from the Board of Directors to seek recruiting help from the media. In addition to contacting the Benton County Enterprise, he was able to convince the KY3 television station to send a news team to the fire district on Wednesday, June 26. However, Burge’s fire district is apparently not the only one with low numbers of volunteers.
The Missouri Department of Public Safety has reported that there is a need for volunteer firefighters – the committed citizens who help save lives and protect the property of their neighbors. While emergency calls are up in the state, in some communities’ busy schedules and family commitments mean that fewer volunteers are available to answer the alarm.
“Most of our firefighters are in their 60s or 70,” said Burge. “The equipment is heavy and it gets harder to handle as we get older. We fought a fire a few weeks ago and a fire marshal came by to see what we were doing. Even though we have 20 volunteers on our roll, he saw that only four firefighters had responded, so he took a hose and helped us fight the fire. I am worried that homeowners in areas with insufficient fire fighting capabilities might have to eventually pay higher insurance premiums.”
Osage Valley Fire District Chief, Ron Taddiken, said that it is hard to get recruits because there are a lot of younger people who leave early in the morning to go to work and have families that take a lot of time for things like ball games for their children. Taddiken said that he remembers when he moved to the local area, he needed a break from a previous, highly active life, and didn’t get involved in the fire district until later. The same story is told by some other Benton County firefighters.
Osage Valley Fire Station, located at 26180 Escapade Lane, in Warsaw, about six miles east of Hwy 65, can be accessed by Hwy BB. The main fire station is located in Cold Turkey Acres, and does benefit from a great deal of fundraising in its community to help the district with expenses that the $32,000 a year provided by Benton County tax assessments doesn’t cover. Previous grants have provided some equipment for two of the District’s stations but its newest pumper truck is a 1998 model. It also has brush trucks that are out of service with the Department of Conservation and are refitted for the district’s purpose. A pickup truck and a Jeep are on loan from the Department of Conservation. Chief Taddiken said that he is learning how to write grants that will hopefully help supply more funds for the district. 
Deputy Fire Chief Chad Hammond with the Deer Creek Fire Protection District in Edwards, said that this is a retirement community and it used to be that people would come down on the weekends, and then move here after retirement. He said some of these people would join the fire department. 
“But now, people seem to wait later to retire and are not as available for volunteering with the district,” said Hammond. “A lot of our young people also leave the area for careers elsewhere.”
Hammond said that tax-based funding comes to about $36,000 a year for the district, to be split between four stations. There are 12 trucks, but he uses his personal truck for medical calls to save department money on fuel. The volunteers responded to 180 calls last year, most of which were medical. There are 15 to 20 volunteers, 10 are firefighters and many are over 60. Hammond said the department is fortunate to have an auxiliary, the Busy Bees, who help out with fundraisers, and provide hot dogs and drinks when they fight brush fires. He said that the auxiliary actually helped to fund a new building at one of the stations when the old building had to be torn down.
Hammond said that there are an average of five to seven volunteer firefighters who turn out for structure fires, but that there have been times when they fought fires with only three or less people. He said their equipment is old. They have a 1998 rescue truck but their pumpers are barely passing the National Fire Protection Association Standards.
The good news is that Warsaw and Lincoln Fire Protection Districts seem to have enough volunteer firefighters, but those with jobs are often not able to respond to daytime calls.  Neither fire district has to take medical calls because the Warsaw Lincoln Ambulance District is close enough to respond.
Warsaw has 30 volunteers that cover 100 square miles with five stations. Fire Chief Rob Lane attributes that to their website and Facebook pages. They usually have about six volunteers respond to calls, and if they need more they do what all Benton County fire districts, they enlist mutual aid from another fire station. They are also in the “infancy” stage of a junior firefighter program where youth as young as young as 14 can be brought into training so they will develop an interest in becoming qualified volunteer by the age of 18. There are presently six junior firefighters.
“Our equipment is okay and buildings are new,” said Chief Lane. “We are working to make everything better. The guys love doing their jobs.”
Lincoln’s Fire Protection District has 40 volunteers, and a lot of them are in their 20s and 30s. Fire Chief Mike Rambow said that the younger volunteers are necessary to help those who are in their 50s and 60s. He said that many of their younger volunteers work in other cities so are not available during daytime calls when the response is about two or three members. There are better numbers in the evenings. Hammond said that the district is in the process of buying some used equipment to replace older equipment that needs replacing.
Lincoln has fire stations in Lincoln, Ionia, Max Camp and San Diego on E Hwy. Its boundaries on the south are T Hwy that follows the lake to Henry County. A line continues north to Windsor and Hwy 52, then heads south in a parallel line just west of Hwy 65. 
“We had 13 structure fires in 2018, including some that were fought with mutual aid,” said Rambow. “So far there have been five structure fires this year. Usually brush and grass fires are more numerous, but they have been low this year.”
Lincoln takes a careful view of new volunteer applicants. The District’s insurance plan requires that all applicants have background checks. 
The Department of Public Safety has listed reasons to become a firefighter on its website. 1) The personal satisfaction of knowing you are making a difference for the people who live and work in your community; 2) No-cost training opportunities for all types of emergency response, including fire fighting, medical emergency response, disaster response and water rescue; and 3) An excellent way to receive training and on-the-job experience in preparation for a full-time firefighter position.
To learn more and be connected with the volunteer fire department serving in a local community, call the Missouri Division of Fire Safety at 1-800-392-7766.