Chief Kevin Quinn, National Volunteer Fire Council
Good afternoon I am here on behalf of the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC), which is the leading nonprofit membership association representing the interests of the volunteer fire, EMS, and rescue services. The volunteer fire service makes up two-thirds of the nation’s fire, EMS, and rescue services.
AFG and SAFER grants are essential to the survival of many volunteer departments throughout the country. Without these grants, many volunteer departments would cease to exist.
According to NFPA, 98% of departments serving populations of less than 2,500 are either all volunteer or mostly volunteer.
This afternoon my colleagues referenced the inability of many departments to equip their firefighters with the most essential equipment like SCBA and turnout gear, this is particularly true of volunteer departments serving these small and rural communities. This is primarily for economic reasons. Because fire protection services are funded at the local level/tax base. Rural tax bases often struggle to fund essential firefighting equipment like turnout gear and self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), which cost thousands of dollars. These departments often fundraise with boot drives and pancake breakfasts, but even those efforts combined with local tax dollars can’t provide the needed funding.
AFG grants are critical to providing the additional needed funding for these communities and that need is strong AFG and SAFER, which often can only provide approximately 20% of the funding requested.
When it comes to SAFER, this afternoon my colleagues mentioned the increase in the volume of calls for service. This increased call volume has been coupled with the number of volunteer firefighters dropping by 12% nationwide from 2010 to 2020. Additionally, since 2000, the percentage of firefighters over the age of 50 serving in communities with populations of 2,500 or fewer residents has surged from 18.9 percent to 34 percent. Some of the largest factors impacting recruitment and retention (R&R) of firefighters are the transformation taking place across rural America, along with increased mental and physical fatigue.
As jobs leave small towns and young people move to the cities and suburbs in search of work, there are fewer people available to volunteer as emergency responders. As call volumes have risen and the amount of training required to serve as a firefighter has increased, it is more difficult to convince people to take time away from their families and become volunteers.
SAFER grants provide critical funding to organizations and fire departments to assist with recruitment and retention.
The NVFC has received funding for our Make Me A Firefighter campaign to help local fire and EMS agencies recruit volunteer personnel. The Make Me A Firefighter campaign is a web-based tool that provides departments with information about how to establish a recruitment program, gives them pre-packaged and customizable marketing materials, messaging and outreach strategies, and offers them free access to post volunteer position listings on our online portal. To date there are more than 16,000 users signed up with the campaign, representing more than 9,000 fire departments. More than 5,350 volunteer opportunities are listed and nearly 34,000 applications have been submitted through the portal.
SAFER needs to remain available to help fund additional successful recruiting tools like Make Me a Firefighter to ensure that when someone calls for help a firefighter will be there to answer. We cannot take that for granted.