Local fire departments struggle to find volunteers

Published: Sep. 5, 2020 at 7:02 PM CDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA) - Fire danger is extremely high in Pennington County this weekend.

“Everybody’s little antennas kind of go up.” Dennis Gorton, a firefighter with North Haines VFD, says.

“We’re under the red flag, it’s 95 degrees, the wind is blowing 30 miles per hour and it’s dry, if we get a call, for grass fire or a wildland fire, it might get big,” Gorton says, they always have to think about what could happen in a broader sense.

When there’s high fire danger, it does bring out one issue: we have fewer volunteer firefighters these days.

“There are departments that struggle, not just around here, nationwide,” Gorton says. “They struggle with getting volunteers to answer the call.”

When some places don’t have enough firefighters, they will then need help from other areas.

“Well, like Montana has some monster fires going on, could we get called? Sure,” Gorton says

In South Dakota, nearly 93% of the fire service members come from volunteers. On a national level, about 70% of the fire service consists of volunteers.

The service relies much on volunteerism, but Gorton says, there are just fewer people who can commit themselves to the service, and therefore, some firefighters are spread thin. “Hermosa, Hayward, and Keystone, those three departments are merged, they have four people on 24/7.”

Gorton says, North Haines fire station is fortunate to have at least 30 people on the roster, but all stations are always looking for more firefighters.

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