Rural fire departments struggle to find volunteers

Published: Mar. 9, 2022 at 10:39 PM CST
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CENTRAL WISCONSIN, Wis. (WSAW) - We’ve told you before about the staffing struggles that full-time fire departments are facing, but for area rural departments, they’re seeing similar issues. In some ways, it’s a challenge for them to meet demand.

Rural Fire Departments mostly rely on volunteers to staff their stations. This makes it difficult to recruit and retain a full crew. When emergencies happen in rural parts of central Wisconsin, the fire departments need all hands on deck. However, the problem is there’s not always enough hands to help.

“You really never know when that pager goes off how many people are going to show up,” Edgar Fire Chief David Wagener said.

Edgar is a volunteer department, Wagener said it can be a challenge to get people out to calls.

“People leave town to go to work and so they’re not around. During the day there’s not very many people around that could respond to an EMS or fire call,” Wagener said.

Now these challenges are intensified with a shortage of young volunteers. Wagener said the average age of their firefighters is 53. The time commitment and extensive training are the biggest hurdles for finding new blood. The same problem goes for finding more EMTs.

“We have some members that will take on extra shifts, take on more time than what we’d expect them to,” Edgar Fire Department EMS Coordinator Julie Zuleger said.

While Edgar is able to get the job done, they could use eight to 10 more volunteers for fire and EMS. The challenges Edgar is facing is not uncommon at other rural departments.

“During daytime calls we do struggle with staffing,” Town of Hamburg Fire Chief Ryan DeBroux said.

DeBroux said while they are not short staffed right now, it’s still hard to predict how many will show up to calls especially with the heavy load they have no choice but to carry.

“Out in the country and the rural settings, we have to do all the firefighting functions, plus we have to hall all the water there, you know we don’t have fire hydrants on all the corners out here,” DeBroux said.

A new plan by Governor Tony Evers will also help rural departments like Hamburg and Edgar financially, giving them an extra lift they could desperately use.

“If we could get some staffing and pay for some staffing during the day that would help tremendously,” Wagener said.

The Edgar Fire Department has had some open houses to recruit new members. If you’re interested in becoming a volunteer, you can contact Wagener at edgarfiredave@gmail.com.

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