ANDERSON — By the time dispatch receives an emergency fire or medical call, gets it into the system and dispatches Lafayette Township Volunteer Fire Department to the scene, it will take six to eight minutes for the firefighters to leave the station.
This is in the most ideal circumstances, Lafayette Township firefighter and public information officer Shaun Wilson said.
Emergencies don’t wait for convenience, when most volunteers are home for the night and able to respond to calls. They happen all the time, and the decline of recruitment in volunteer fire departments impacts all Madison County fire departments, not just Lafayette Township’s, he said.
The U.S. Fire Administration released a statement on Dec. 6 that volunteer fire departments across the country are in a “recruitment crisis.”
“With fewer people staffing departments and fewer people committing to the hours of training required for volunteer duty, communities and citizens are more vulnerable,” according to the statement.
Lafayette Township’s department has 28 volunteers on its roster, Wilson said. Chesterfield-Union Township has 45 volunteers and six paid part-time firefighters; Adams-Markleville Fire Protection Territory has 20 volunteers.
As a rule of thumb, if a roster has 100 volunteers, 10 to 15 of them actively show up on calls regularly, Wilson said.
“Working hours are a major factor. In Madison County, a majority of people commute to work,” he said. “Even if they want to be on the scene, they’re in Carmel.”
Chesterfield-Union Township Volunteer Fire Department Chief Jamey Burrows said that department, along with a few other Madison County volunteer departments, pays its volunteers with paid on-call and paid per call, plus standby times.
Adams-Markleville Fire Protection Territory also pays its volunteers with a similar structure, said Chief Jim Chaplain. He said he’s seen the decline in new recruits rise recently.
“In the last five or 10 years, everyone’s busier,” he said. “People might start out right out of high school but once they’re 30 and have kids and wives, it’s a lot harder.”
The statement from the national fire organization urges small departments to re-work their recruitment methods, with a “sales pitch” attitude.
Lapel-Stony Creek Volunteer Fire Department Lt. Daniel Barker said his department is taking a proactive approach by working with Pendleton Heights High School to create a public service announcement about volunteering.
“There’s a reason why we do it, the service to the community, everyone loves it, and it’s because we love our community,” he said. “We want to get that word out.”
Anderson High School with District 26 Career Center allows students to train for firefighter and EMT certification, from which Burrows said Chesterfield-Union Township has benefited.
“It’s really cool that Anderson High School has done that, and it’s been a good recruitment tool,” he said. “Anyone considering being a career firefighter should definitely consider starting as a volunteer.”
Many of the departments are funded with taxes, grants and fundraising. Money is always tight. Despite that, the departments struggle with their volunteers’ busyness, and times have changed, Burrows said.
“Decades ago, business owners would just put signs on their doors, ‘At the fire, will be back,’” he said. “It’s not like that now.”
Even as times have changed, fire territories run close together. Cross Street in Anderson is split, with Anderson Fire Department on one side, Richland and Lafayette townships on the other, Wilson said.
Even with Anderson’s Station 4 sitting at 621 W. Cross St., Lafayette Township services the homes across the street from it.
“Many people covered by volunteers have no idea they’re covered by volunteers,” he said. “I don’t think people realize how close those fire territories are.”
Every fire department representative agreed that it’s difficult to operate with few new recruits and financial stress.
They also agreed it’s worth the stress.
“The rewards far outweigh the headache,” Chaplain said. “It’s definitely worth it. We will welcome anyone who is interested in coming by.”
Follow Laura Arwood on Twitter for live breaking news updates @lauraarwood or call 765-648-4284.
How to volunteer
• Adams Markleville Fire Protection Territory: 765-544-4374
• Chesterfield-Union Township Volunteer Fire Department: 765-378-7255
• Duck Creek Volunteer Fire Department: 765-522-2084
• Edgewood Volunteer Fire Department: 765-290-6069
• Ingalls Volunteer Fire Department: 317-485-0182
• Lafayette Township Volunteer Fire Department: 765-640-0977
• Lapel-Stony Creek Volunteer Fire Department: 765-534-3747
• Pendleton Fire Department: 765-778-2400
• Pipecreek Township Volunteer Fire Department: 765-552-2020
• Richland Township Fire Department: 765-649-5851
• Summitville-Van Buren Fire Department: 765-536-2042