More Volunteer Firefighters Needed

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By Amy Fox
By Jared Roberts

JACKSON COUNTY --  Many fire departments across our region depend on volunteers. But the ranks are thinning, and some stations are down to just a half dozen firefighters, which forces them to rely on other departments and slows response times.

The Carbondale Township Fire Department is just one of many in the area dealing with a shrinking list of volunteers. Right now, they only have eight, about half as many as they need.

Carbondale Township Fire Department Shift Officer Joseph Shelton said, "You get a pager, and you take it around with you all the time.  And there's not like certain nights where you have to show up or certain days, you just show up."

The Carbondale Township Fire Department has four full-time employees and eight volunteers.  With such a small staff, the department is often forced to call for mutual aid, which can take up more time. 

"If we're called to a structure fire, there's a lot of stuff going on at the same time," said Shelton.  "And we need the manpower to get it all done."

"A lot of the areas that can't afford to have a full-time fire department rely on, you know, just regular citizens in the area, you know, [to] step up and dedicate their spare time to help protect the area," said DeVante Marshall, a volunteer with the Carbondale Township Fire Department.

In Elkville, the fire department knows all too well how hard it can be to find help. Their entire force is made up of volunteers.

"The trucks will sit.  If you ain't got no volunteers, they ain't going nowhere," said Elkville Fire Chief Kevin Wright.

When fire departments recruit new volunteers, they sometimes only last a few months.

Marshall said, "Sometimes, it's not just for everybody.  It's physically straining. Sometimes, it can be mentally tough and it takes a certain type of person." 

"Once they find out how detailed oriented it is and how the training is, how much dedication and how much time you have to put into this job, they kind of fall away," added Shelton.

At the end of the day, it's not about how many hours they spend without pay, it's all about the people.  

 "You have people out there depending on it," said Wright. "So, you gotta be there if something happens."

To become a volunteer firefighter in Illinois, you have to be at least 18 years old and have a valid driver's license and no criminal record. A four-month training course is also required.

 

 

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