Every 24 seconds, somewhere in America, a fire department responds and firefighters are on the job–saving life and property.
What many people may not realize is that the majority of these firefighters are volunteers, donating their time and energy to be there for those facing emergency and life-threatening situations.
As the pandemic continues to tighten its grip on the country’s economic recovery, small and rural communities are struggling to meet crucial voluntary staffing needs for emergency services.
According to Lt. Brian Stearns at the Highway 58 Fire Department in Harrison, volunteering provides a unique way for a person to make a difference in their community, while they develop skills and experience that can greatly benefit many aspects of their personal and professional lives.
It also provides a sense of camaraderie and purpose to those who serve.
Community members can “live an adventurous journey as a volunteer firefighter,” Lt. Stearns noted in a written statement, while “using your training and experience as a stepping stone to a position as a career firefighter with one of the many paid departments in the Tri-State area around Chattanooga, Tennessee.”
Call volume has tripled in the last 30 years as fire departments’ roles in communities continue to expand, making the need for volunteers greater than ever.
Of the nearly 30,000 fire departments in the country, 83 percent are either entirely or mostly volunteer. And seven out of 10 firefighters and emergency responders are volunteers, protecting their communities from a variety of hazards and saving taxpayers nationwide an estimated $140 billion a year.
Volunteers come from all backgrounds, professions, ages, genders, races and ethnicities–responding to nearly every type of emergencies–structure fires, wildfires, medical emergencies, natural disasters, vehicle crashes, hazardous materials spills, search and rescue, active shooter threats, and more.
“We need more people to step up and serve so that we can continue to provide critical life-saving services in our local communities,” said Steve Hirsch, volunteer firefighter and chair of the National Volunteer Fire Council. “Anyone can be a firefighter. The biggest requirement is the desire to help others. The rest can be taught.”
For those who want to help but aren’t able to commit to becoming a firefighter or EMS provider, volunteers are also needed to fill non-operational roles. Community members can join a department’s auxiliary program to provide support services such as fire prevention education, disaster planning, fundraising, administration, and more.
“We come from all backgrounds and life experiences, but we are all part of this extraordinary fire service family,” said Hirsch.
“I strongly encourage anyone looking for a way to make a difference to consider joining their local volunteer fire department. It really is neighbors helping neighbors. There is nothing more rewarding than being a volunteer firefighter–we are there for our neighbors when they are having their worst possible day.”
The Highway 58 Volunteer Fire Department requires that new recruits attend an academy for training and certification for various levels of firefighting, medical, hazardous materials, and technical rescue.
Trainees must be able to dedicate Mondays, Wednesdays, and the occasional Saturday for approximately nine months, from 6-10 p.m. And after attaining certification, attend weekly training (if available) on Tuesday nights and respond to various calls when available.
Firefighters may be expected to work in a variety of work environments including: severe weather incidents, extreme hot and cold weather, hazardous atmospheres, dark and confined spaces, and other situations that may arise.
Applications can be picked up at the Highway 58 Volunteer Fire Department Business Office at 5402 Highway 58.
Located at the corner of Highway 58 and Hickory Valley Road, the 100 percent volunteer station provides fire and rescue services to the southern end of Harrison and eastern Chattanooga (unincorporated) areas.
For further information, contact Lt. Brian Stearns at (423)847-7309.