By C.V. Moore
MOUNT HOPE —
“Dangerous work, irregular hours, no money, satisfaction guaranteed,” reads a recruitment poster for the Mount Hope Volunteer Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department.
Leaders there are getting proactive about recruiting new members, hoping to enroll volunteers in free firefighter and emergency medical technician training classes starting in January.
A combination of downward trends in membership, an expansion of services and the need to handle large volumes of calls during National Scout Jamborees has spurred the push for new recruits.
“It’s an exciting and rewarding career, even on a volunteer status, to have the opportunity to know you’re making a difference in someone’s life,” said Capt. Jeff Johnson. “With this training, we’re giving people the opportunity to make a good outcome out of something bad that’s happened.”
Johnson says recruitment and retention at volunteer fire departments has been dropping in the past 10 to 15 years nationwide.
“It used to be you didn’t have to do a lot of recruiting. People had time and wanted to volunteer. Now you have busier lifestyles.
“So to continue to fill our staff with volunteers, we are hitting the recruiting pretty hard to keep our station manned every day of the week, 24-hours a day for medical responses.”
Part of that effort means reaching out to younger members of the community. Mount Hope has an active Firefighters Apprenticeship Program for youth ages 16 to 18. The firefighters-to-be obtain EMT and fire training so that when they turn 18 they are ready to step on the truck and go.
Samuel Jones, 19, began training with the department when he was 17. He says the experience has had a “positive effect” on his life and has enabled him to pursue his career goals.
“When I was a kid, when 9/11 happened, I remember watching the firefighters going into the towers and I thought that was courageous and brave. I decided I wanted to be a firefighter,” he said.
So he went down to the fire station and asked about the program. With EMT and fire training now under his belt, he says he wants to be a paramedic one day.
The apprenticeship program, now in its sixth year, averages between four and eight members per year.
The department offers another incentive to young people in the form of a “bunk-in program.” College students can live in the station’s bunk house, instead of a typical college dorm, and be trained as a firefighter in exchange for volunteering to respond to calls.
In early December, Mount Hope VFD launched a First Responder program. At least one emergency responder is on duty at the station at all times to handle non-fire emergency calls. With this expansion of services, calls have increased by about a third, adding to the desire for a larger trained membership.
And finally, the 2013 National Scout Jamboree, expected to draw about 40,000 people to the Summit Bechtel Reserve right outside of town, has increased the need for members.
“With the Jamboree coming up, our call volumes are going to be outrageous. At Fort A.P. Hill, where they used to have the Jamboree, they averaged 300 fire and medical calls a day,” said Johnson.
The department currently responds to an average of 30 to 40 calls per month.
“We’re in the process of going from a small town fire department to one of the largest cities in the state, for 10 days every four years. We’ll be adapting to the amount of people and the type of calls we’ll be running,” says Johnson.
The Boy Scouts of America recently bought the department a “mini-pumper” truck, a small fire truck that can be used to navigate smaller streets and the Summit property, where it will be housed.
Johnson says he’d like to see the 30-plus member force grow to about 50, and he’s encouraging more local men and women to “serve with pride” and “make a difference.”
The upcoming First Responder and Emergency Medical Technician training begins Jan. 8 with an orientation meeting. The classes start on Jan. 10. In-house instructors will also offer firefighter training. Participants can choose one or the other, or both.
All the training is provided and paid for by the VFD, with no cost to members. Classes are offered on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m.
Volunteers are paid a small stipend of $10 per call and uniforms are provided.
Contact Capt. Jeff Johnson at 304-673-4872 for more information. For those interested in the Firefighters Apprenticeship Program, call Chief Shane Wheeler at 304-877-2488.