Inside the Financial Struggles Faced by Volunteer Firefighters

Volunteer fire departments have long struggled with recruitment and retention, and one of the primary reasons behind their struggle for membership is the financial aspect. Financial struggles are a serious issue among volunteer firefighters. You can imagine what it takes for someone to take on such a large commitment, especially when they are not getting compensated for it. 

Volunteer Culture 

The first volunteer fire department was founded by Benjamin Franklin in Pennsylvania in 1736. And the state continues to tout that it has the largest number of volunteer companies in the country. But that isn’t as impressive as it once was. In the 1970s, there were about 300,000 volunteer firefighters in the state, which the number has now fallen to roughly 38,000. A job that once had been an iconic part of American life has lost intrigue and appeal. The culture has changed and many people don’t have the means to volunteer.

Responsibilities have shifted, burdens have become greater. There isn’t as much time to give to volunteering when most people rely on a two-income household now more than ever. And factor kids into the situation, without a designated stay-at-home parent, it’s not realistic to think one of them can just dash off at a moment’s notice. As older volunteer firefighters retire, it’s becoming harder to replace them.

Costs & Fundraising

There are major issues volunteer fire companies are facing when it comes to funding. Training costs have only increased, and if a volunteer company is unable to front the costs, recruits may have to pay their own way. This means that for the most basic gear, a volunteer could face a $3,000 expense. With the bills adding up, fundraising now takes up to 60 percent of a volunteer firefighter’s time, which is a huge discouragement to join. 

Departments used to rely on benefit auctions, carnivals, community bingo and raffles to cover costs. But now, with equipment prices rising and fewer volunteers to organize such functions, it’s barely enough to get by. Volunteers are now being asked to fundraise more than anything.

Emotional Trauma

Other than the added focus on fundraising, the duties of a firefighter have shifted over the years. They have become the go-to call for an emergency — any emergency. They rarely put out fires anymore. They are regularly dispatched for water rescues, vehicular accidents, hazardous material spills, drug overdoses, and natural disasters. It’s hard to ignore the emotional toll this can take on a firefighter.  You’re asked to help someone at their most vulnerable time, and that’s really special, but it can be difficult also as we can’t always save the day like we hope to.

And along with the emotional stress that often comes hand-in-hand with the job, the physical danger is just as great. Even with the progression of equipment, new training, better gear, that’s still not always enough to save a firefighter’s life.

Recruitment and retention are serious challenges. The duties just have to be part of a person, and people are finding more and more reasons why it is not worth it, especially with the significant financial struggles. It is important that departments step up now more than ever to protect the financial livelihood of their volunteer firefighters.  

Without sufficient membership numbers, it can be difficult and unsafe for the members that departments do have. They are more likely to be overworked and exhausted, and this could lead to potential safety hazards when responding to emergency

About Provident Insurance Programs

With roots dating back to 1902, Provident Insurance Programs is a program administrator that serves paid and volunteer firefighters in addition to emergency medical responders with numerous custom-tailored insurance programs. We’ve also extended our expertise and experience to offer benefit plans and coverages to participant groups as well as Transportation Benefits. We are committed to continuing to provide superior customer service, and would be happy to speak with you to provide further information. Give us a call today at (855) 201-8880 to speak with one of our representatives.