Shelby County, AL (WBMA) — Many communities rely heavily on volunteer fire departments, especially rural areas. Officials say they are disappearing because they haven’t had enough volunteers or money to continue operations.
If you ask them why they got involved, they have several reasons.
“It seemed like a good way to give back to the community,” says Matthew Rush, a Shelby VFD firefighter.
Volunteer firefighters are there for you, but they’re also there for each other.
“We rely on each other, in our hardest times we’re there to support each other and help each other, and that’s something you just can’t buy in today’s society,” says Rush.
Also in today’s society, the number of volunteer firefighters is decreasing. Several VFDs have had to close their doors because they no longer have the funding or the man power. Jones remembers 3 in Shelby County in the past decade.
What some people don’t realize, a community without VFDs may not be what you’d want to live in.
“Your home insurance would almost double or triple in some cases because your fire coverage would disappear immediately. The long term effects would be your county, state, and local government would have to figure out a way to increase the tax revenue to be able to supply appropriate staffing for those fire stations,” says Rush.
Which he says could be a million dollars per station, per year. Here’s another fact: VFDs need more than firefighters to volunteer.
“Only 2 to 4 people go into a house fire at any given time, but it takes 10-15 people outside to make those 2 or 4 be successful. Anything from driving a truck to the scene, helping get water out of the truck, keeping an eye on power lines, of other bystanders to keep them safe, or fundraising,” Rush says.
They rely on grants and monetary support. Summer Hill VFD has 14 volunteers right now, but really could use 25. Like most volunteer departments, they don’t have someone at the station 24 hours a day. Some people work night shift, some people are off, so most times they respond, you may see about 4 of them on scene.
Let’s not forget they volunteer, they have other jobs too.
“Can we go home and go to sleep before we have to be at work in an hour? Or is it time to go home take a shower and just go straight to work?” says Rush about a conversation a few of the firefighters had on the scene of an early morning fire.
No matter the hours, they’ll be there when they’re needed. They just need other volunteers to be just as dedicated to serving their community.
“Some people like the excitement of it, some people like to find out what’s going on in the neighborhood, and in this, you can do both,” says Jones.
The volunteer firefighters ABC 33/40 spoke with say sometimes they work long hours, but saving lives is worth the time.