Local fire departments echo a need for volunteers

In this file photo, Cleveland Fire Chief Sean Anderson (left) watches as firefighters look for hot spots in the Little Flock Baptist Church near Rayburn.

By Rachel Hall, reporting for Bluebonnet News

Volunteerism is down across the country, and the trend is having an effect on communities all across Liberty County.

“We need more people to step up and take care of their communities,” said Hardin Volunteer Fire Department Chief Craig Powell.

Two fire departments in the county – Liberty and Cleveland – have combination staffing, which includes some paid positions as well as volunteer opportunities. However, the majority of the fire stations run with a staff of volunteers who are becoming harder to find and retain.

“In the past, we have had up to 45 volunteers at one time,” said Cleveland VFD Recruitment and Retention Coordinator Robert Pickering. “Currently, we have an inactive list of 10-12 and an active list of four or five individuals, and most of us are in our 60s.”

Over the years, manpower on the volunteer side has dropped, but call volume has increased significantly, according to Pickering.

“It is a sacrifice to be a volunteer,” said Pickering. “It’s important to your community. Plus you learn skills – life skills. It’s more rewarding than you think.”

Volunteers are asked to show up to weekly meetings and respond to calls maintaining an active status, so Cleveland VFD offers a stipend to volunteers to help alleviate the financial burden of donating time.

Hardin Volunteer Fire Department started a similar initiative to boost recruitment efforts.

“As of July 1, we are running a pilot program offering $10 per call paid monthly,” said Powell. “We can use people from all different walks of life. We meet every Thursday night.”

Hardin VFD in one of the departments in the county that is run by 100 percent volunteer staff.

“I need firefighters, but I could always use staff people to help around the station and with fundraisers and such,” noted Powell. “You can upload a whole resume on volunteerfirefighter.org to connect to all the local departments in the county or come to any of the stations.”

Tarkington Volunteer Fire Department is another station fully-staffed by volunteers.

“The fire service is growing. We are changing every day. There’s a lot going on,” said Tarkington VFD Chief Paul Gregory. “If you come, we will train you.”

Every fire department in the county offers training to its volunteers, and individuals willing to volunteer are usually directed to their local station for additional details.

“Volunteers are unique. There is a lot involved in volunteering,” explained Gregory. “The best way to get involved at Tarkington is to come up on Monday at 7 p.m. and meet the guys and talk about what they’re getting into.”

While many departments do have open meetings, Dayton Volunteer Fire Department does not allow the public to attend.

“Our meetings are closed to the public,” said Dayton VFD Chief Murphy Green. “It is best to give us a call.”

The process of joining DVFD is longer than it is for other stations – about 80 percent of applicants drop out when they figure out the amount of work it entails, according to Green.

“For one, there is a call list of members and you have to call each member of the department to get their vote,” he said.

It took approximately 8 weeks for Green to join as a volunteer almost 22 years ago, but the process can now be completed in about two weeks.

“Before you receive the call list, we run a background check,” he said.

Once a member, there is no inactive list at DVFD – someone who does not fulfill their obligation will be voted out similarly to how they were voted in.

“Our volunteers are doing it because they love to do it, and because they love to give back to the community,” explained Green.

For more information, follow the fire departments on social media or visit www.volunteerfirefighter.org

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