Fire/emergency medical services

Report looks at ways to protect the health and safety of volunteer firefighters

Firefighter deaths -- Sep13

Photo: Jerry Sharp

Washington – Volunteer firefighters face greater risks to their health and safety as their ranks diminish and call volumes increase, according to a report from the U.S. Fire Administration and the National Volunteer Fire Council.

Approximately 69 percent of the nation’s firefighters – about 788,000 – are volunteers, NVFC states. The number of volunteer firefighters has decreased by almost 12 percent in the past three decades, and more than half of volunteer firefighters who are protecting communities of at least 2,500 people are 40 and older. In addition, firefighters – both volunteer and full time – respond to three times as many calls as they did in 1980.

The report identifies six critical issues that must be addressed to protect volunteer firefighters:

  • Create and maintain a culture to improve health and safety.
  • Focus on recruiting and retaining skilled firefighters.
  • Ensure sufficient funding so fire departments can operate successfully.
  • Consider expanding the role of firefighters to include emergency medical services and all-hazard firefighting.
  • Emphasize personal physical and mental health.
  • Enforce safety protocols regarding vehicles, personal protective equipment and other issues.

“Health and safety are essential to the operational effectiveness of volunteer fire departments as well as valuable for retention and recruitment. We are committed to protecting our boots on the ground firefighters and emergency personnel,” NVFC Chairman Kevin D. Quinn said in a Dec. 14 press release.

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