BOTETOURT COUNTY, Va. (WFXR) — Some fire departments are beginning to worry about the widening age gap in volunteers, as well as the lack of teens and young adults willing to volunteer. A Botetourt County recruiter says the frequent turnover is due to leaving for school or wanting a hobby that pays.
According to Membership Coordinator & Vice President for Botetourt County Department of Fire & EMS, Jeff Armstrong, “The challenge for us is that a lot of times we’ll have somebody on board for a year to two years and our challenge is making it interesting enough that they stay.”
“A lot of members in this immediate area will join and then they’ll find a job and it’s not always here in Roanoke,” said Armstrong, the membership coordinator for all seven Botetourt County fire departments,
He says selling the idea of becoming a volunteer firefighter to those ages 16 to 20 has become harder over the years.
“Sometimes their enthusiasm is more towards becoming paid staff, so we lose a fair amount of them over the four to five years that we have them on board,” Armstrong said.
The Read Mountain branch depends on 12 paid staff. They’re used to having 30 to 40 volunteers, but currently, they only have 25.
“I think a lot of people feel like they just don’t have the time to,” Dylan Kiger, a lieutenant for the Troutville Fire Department, said. “Everyone’s lives are busy, but I think people would realize very quickly that once they work something like this into their everyday life, it’s really not that big of a burden.”
Kiger is 24 and works full-time as a mechanic, but he’s been a volunteer for six years. He says he’s probably one of few who plans to stick around and encourage others to get involved.
“It means a lot to the community and it’s very self-rewarding,” he said.
Volunteers at the Read Mountain Fire Department in Botetourt County say volunteering is a great stepping stone for students going into the medical field and a flexible hobby for those who live nearby.