Fire departments in eastern Kentucky are struggling to find enough volunteers.
Pike County Emergency Management Director Doug Tackett told the Appalachian News-Express that volunteer departments are finding different ways to compensate for the lack of firefighters, but the problem is shared by districts all over eastern Kentucky.
“A lot of departments are suffering from a lack of manpower,” he said. “This is especially during the daytime when most people are working.”
Turkey Creek Volunteer Fire Department Chief James Stepp said he feared his department would have to close its doors in November, but a county official helped them find enough volunteers to stay open.
“We had some real trouble for a while there,” he said. “We stirred up a little commotion and picked up three volunteers. We’re looking for at least four or five more.”
Hurricane Creek Volunteer Fire Department Chief Rick Slusher said his department has started using foam in addition to water to fight fires.
“Using foam makes the hose much lighter and more maneuverable,” he said. “You don’t need as many people when you use the foam because it’s not as heavy and powerful as when we use water only.”
Slusher said it would be easier to recruit volunteers if the county or state offered some sort of incentive for them.
“It seems around election-time politicians say they’re going to do something,” he said. “Nothing ever materializes.”
Tackett said the Kentucky Fire Commission has hired someone with recruiting skills to help address the situation.
Slusher, however, said the state’s requirements for volunteers are too strict.
“The state wants 22-year-old athletes with college degrees to serve as volunteer fire men,” he said. “We don’t necessarily need guys who can do everything. We just need help with a few things, like carrying things, directing traffic or driving a fire truck. There are so many things volunteers could do other than fight fires.”