LANCASTER COUNTY, S.C. (WBTV) - In the last 15 years, Lancaster County has grown significantly, but the fire department has lost nearly a quarter of its volunteers.
Just last week fire officials say the lack of volunteers affected the time it took to put out a fire at a home on Walden Road.
“There was not enough help to start with, and they just had to keep calling and asking for more stations to be added to get the right amount of manpower on scene to be able to safely extinguish the fire,” said Lancaster County Fire Marshal Russell Rogers.
The delay in response is shining a light on an issue that fire officials say they’re working to tackle daily.
Lancaster County fire officials say in the last 15 years their call volume has gone up 135%.
“Our county is very large. We have 19 departments, probably 7000 calls a year for service,” said Rogers. “There’s just no way we could supply paid staff to all of that.”
Rogers adds 15 years ago they had around 350 volunteers. Today they have about 260.
“We probably would love to double that number,” said Rogers. “We would love to get up to 400 or 450 volunteers-- that would greatly make a difference.”
Lancaster County Fire Recruitment and Retention Coordinator Brian Stogner says one of the ways they are working to get new volunteers is through the firefighter training program offered to high school students at the Lancaster County Career Center.
Fourteen high school students are currently working toward their certifications to serve in either a paid or volunteer role. But even if all those students graduated and became volunteers, the county would still need hundreds more.
“A fire they say doubles every minute,” said Rogers. “It’s really faster than that-- more like quadruples every minute. So that delay in response, five minutes, six minutes delay--getting the number of people on scene-- it can cost lives, cost property damage and ultimately firefighter safety, as well.”
Firefighters add they don’t want it to take a tragedy to bring awareness to the need.
“If we have a station with twenty firefighters that are volunteer, half may be at work, some people work third shift, some people work second shift, so we need just all kinds,” said Rogers. “Whatever time you would be willing to share is going to definitely be a benefit.”
Fire officials say their drop in volunteers is actually consistent with a drop at many departments nationwide, adding that in the last fifteen years, departments across the country have seen 17% reduction in force.
The departments says it’s is always actively holding events to try and recruit new volunteers. If you feel called to serve, visit https://joinlcfr.org/