A nationwide epidemic is reaching small towns in North Carolina.
Since 2016, N.C. volunteer fire departments have lost an average of 600 members per year.
The Pumpkin Center Volunteer Fire Department, one of 15 fire departments in Onslow County, has seen a shortage of volunteers first-hand.
“It’s going to be declining more and a lot of it has to do with the commitment that you have to have, the training hours that you provide,” said Jeremy Foster, fire chief at the Pumpkin Center Volunteer Fire Dept.
Foster said there are currently 31 volunteers on his roster, but about 15 of those are seen on a daily basis.
He considers family obligations, church or sports factors on why there is a shortage in the fire department, including those in the Marine Corp.
The average troop stays one and a half to two years at the Pumpkin Center.
“They start taking your classes, they get training, they answer calls and just about the time they get trained…what happens? They either get deployed, they get transferred,” said Foster.
The shortage of volunteers hasn’t impacted the services they provide but it puts more strain on the firefighters during an emergency.
“The extra hand could always be helpful in that the guy who needs to be to work on time or even just to help us get the job done,” said Joseph Williams, a volunteer firefighter at Pumpkin Center.
According to FEMA, volunteer firefighters are declining at 11% to 12% annually.
“It makes me worried years from now if we’re struggling now what it may be,” said Williams.
FEMA adds that 90% of fire departments in N.C. are volunteer based.
The North Carolina Association of Fire Chief and the International Association of Fire Chiefs launched a campaign to face this epidemic. It’s been funded by a grant that will help volunteer fire departments. One of those being Piney Green Volunteer Fire Department in Jacksonville.
To learn more about volunteering for Pumpkin Center VFD you can call (910)-455-9000 or email.
To find the nearest volunteer opportunities click here.