Recovery

Volunteer Fire Departments Face Declining Numbers

'It’s hard to get someone to go at 2 a.m. if they have to get up at 5 a.m. just to get to work.'

by Caleb Bedillion, Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, Tupelo / April 17, 2018

(TNS) — Faced with declining numbers of volunteer firefighters, Lee County supervisors have indicated alarm and a willingness to explore solutions.

The county’s fire coordinator Marc Flanagan appeared before the Board of Supervisors Monday to provide a briefing on volunteer fire department rosters.

“Volunteerism in our society is declining,” Flanagan said.

Upon questioning by supervisors, Flanagan said many factors have hampered VFD recruitment efforts.

For example, he noted that calls are up compared to past years. This spike in call volume has been driven because the VFD now respond to medical calls.

“It’s hard to get someone to go at 2 a.m. if they have to get up at 5 a.m. just to get to work,” Flanagan told supervisors.

District 1 Supervisor Phil Morgan suggested that Lee County look closer at nearby Lafayette County, which has at least some paid county firefighters.

Morgan said a robust VFD system is needed to ensure affordable home insurance rates in rural areas.

District 2 Supervisor Mike Smith appeared leery of the Lafayette County model, however.

“I’d like to come up with a solution that doesn’t cost us a lot of money,” Smith said.

However, the county fire districts already impose a tax levy. The proceeds of each levy are managed by that fire district.

Morgan suggested the revenue from those fire district taxes could be managed by the county. He says that offers an avenue toward hiring some kind of paid firefighter staff in Lee County.

That would likely require dissolving the individual fire districts.

Flanagan said he will hold talks with VFD fire chiefs in the county as part of ongoing efforts to find solutions for recruitment problems.

caleb.bedillion@journalinc.com Twitter: @CalebBedillion

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