More than half of all firefighters in the United States are volunteers, and in Mississippi, 72 percent of fire departments use only volunteers. Unfortunately, the number of people who are willing to donate their time to help keep communities safe is declining.
It is such a problem in DeSoto County that the government leaders are giving away money to help volunteer departments find and keep people.
The Walls Fire Department plans to set up a system that allows volunteers to earn points toward paychecks.
“The work that you put in will be the work that you get paid for,” Lieutenant Armando Franklin said.
Every volunteer has the same opportunity to get points, but the amount of points they earn will depend on what they do for the department, what training they undergo, or if they help at fundraising events. Some firefighters are already considering how they are going to earn points.
“I plan on taking any extra time I can to come down here and ride on extra shifts,” volunteer firefighter Hunnar Sanderson said. “I plan on helping the day crew with any operations that they do during the day and helping with any extra public relations events with the schools, the churches and the kids, or any available opportunity I can to come help. [I will] take extra classes as far as continuing my education, learning the fire and the medical sides of it, and just furthering and helping in any way that I can.”
The proposed point system adopted by the Walls Fire Department is so new that it has not been put in place yet. Officials say they’re ready, though, and will begin the program as soon as they receive the money from the county.
Franklin believes all volunteers deserve appreciation and this will help to show that the fire department and the community appreciates their time.
“Just being a volunteer, you’re pretty much showing that you have a passion for something that you want to give back to the community, and it will help them.” Franklin said. “It will show them that their work and their time is not going unnoticed.”
Story contributed by Ole Miss student Andi Manguson. Email Andi at firstname.lastname@example.org.