The Campbell County Fire Department has struggled in recent years to fill part-time firefighter positions, even as the number of calls for help increases every year. This is part of a larger trend affecting departments across the country.
“At the moment we are a bit slow, [and] we’ve seen this trend for several years,” Campbell County Fire Department Division Chief Dale Izatt said. “I believe we’ve only distributed between 15 and 20 applications this year so far, and of those, none have yet come back to the department.”
There are currently 32 full-time and 56 part-time firefighters covering the county’s nearly 5,000 square miles. Izatt added that Campbell County is one of the few in the state that pays part-time firefighters because many counties rely on volunteers. He added that there are about 30 rural members who live outside of Gillette or far from full-time fire stations. This does not include 35-40 additional structurally certified members.
“There are a lot of things that come into play, we believe, but it’s just a bit difficult to say why you know why we welcome fewer and fewer people each year,” he added. “It’s been going on for probably four or five years and it looks like there’s going to be a year where we hand out 50 or 60 applications and then we get 20 back and then out of those 20 we go through background checks and stuff like that. Last year we ended up with four people in our academy.
The training process takes about six months and involves attending a training academy one evening a week and a few weekends during this time. The state also sets criteria for volunteer and part-time firefighters, in which they must attend a number of meetings and training events. These also overlap with some of the department’s requirements.
Even though the county pays its part-time firefighters, Izatt said the pay isn’t meaningful but can supplement their pay every month in addition to the pay from their full-time job.
There are also other benefits that part-time firefighters can get, such as a pension plan. Despite the shortage, the number of calls continues to increase each year. Izatt said that equates to about 100 to 150 additional calls each year. Ideally, they would like to have 10 part-time firefighters for each of the county’s 10 structural stations. They have difficulty attracting from certain areas of the county in particular.
“[In] Rozet, we are struggling to get people to apply and join the department,” he said. “Nicholson Little Farms, Sleepy Hollow, Freedom Hills – these are some of the stations currently having trouble getting memberships. We only have two and sometimes three people at these stations right now.”
Izatt said those who want to eventually become part-time firefighters are encouraged to apply and that they constantly need manpower.