State struggling to keep volunteer firefighters

RAPID CITY (AP) – Volunteer fire departments across South Dakota are facing difficulty in attracting and retaining volunteers at a time when call volumes are dramatically increasing.

Only five of the 337 fire departments in the state are not fully or partially staffed by volunteers, the Rapid City Journal reported. But as the age of volunteers continues to rise as well as the number of fire and medical emergency calls, the number of volunteer firefighters willing to respond has stayed stagnant.

A National Volunteer Fire Council report said the number of fire department calls has tripled over the past three decades, from around 12 million in 1986 to almost 34 million in 2015.

"Ambulance services are suffering the same way the fire departments are," South Dakota Firefighters Association President Charlie Kludt said. "I think there is a lot more of a demand for fire departments to be assisting on medical calls more than what there was in the past." He estimated that around 70 percent of the department's calls are not for fires.

Kludt said recruiting new volunteers is challenging because of increased demands on people's time, as well as the demanding nature of the job.

"Nowadays there just seems to be so many more things that seem to be family-oriented activities that are taking up their time," he said, explaining that many South Dakota communities consist of people working all day and coming home only to sleep. "They're not home. It wouldn't do me any good to volunteer when I'm not around."

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