Fire departments continue to battle shortage in volunteers

On the front lines of West Terre Haute is the Sugar Creek Fire Department.

Posted: Jul. 10, 2018 10:48 PM
Updated: Jul. 11, 2018 4:25 PM

VIGO COUNTY, Ind. (WTHI) - On the front lines of West Terre Haute is the Sugar Creek Fire Department.

"Every third day, when I come in for my 24-hour shift, I don't think of it as I'm going to work," said Lt. Sam McClain.

McClain is one of three full-time firefighters at Sugar Creek. However, he said he got his start volunteering for his hometown in New Goshen.

"I loved it so much it stopped me in my tracks," said McClain, "and I just knew right then. I don't know why I wanted to do it, but that's what I was going to do for the rest of my life."

Stories, like McClain's, are rare these days. That's because departments continue to battle a shortage in volunteer firefighters. 

According to statistics, the number of volunteer firefighters reached a low in 2011. The numbers have slowly been on the increase since then, but Sugar Creek says filling the void across the nation isn't getting any easier. 

"There's less and less drive among some people," said Lt. Samuel Stranahan, "Nowadays, people just try to find a job that they're Click on the photo to expand able to stay in, have a guarantee with, and that they're able to support their family. This is a job where they get a good education, where it's more of a community service type of thing, instead of them actually being able to be paid, and I think that's part of the problem."


According to data from the National Volunteer Fire Council, other contributing factors to the shortage include time demands, training requirements, increasing call volume, changes in sociological conditions, leadership problems, as well as aging communities.

Departments throughout the country are also seeing more members aging out. 

"Firefighters aging out does happen," said Stranahan, "Because it's a stressful job on both mind and body, and we do what we can to try and keep people fresh in it. When somebody starts getting to the point where they have to go out, we support them in whatever decision they make because it's a tough job for all aspects of it."

For Sugar Creek, fire officials said they have at least 40 members on their current roster. While they're doing pretty well with what they have, they continue to stress the need for more hands on deck.

The department continues to host different outreach and cadet programs for neighboring high schools and colleges, like Indiana State University and Ivy Tech Community College, to attract interest.

If you're interested in learning more about volunteering opportunities or the programs available, you can contact the Sugar Creek Fire Department on Facebook, their website, by phone (812) 533-1774 or e-mail: SAMMCCLAIN@VIGOCOUNTYFIRE.com.

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