Shortage of volunteer firefighters reaches an alarming level

Published 11:08 am Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

To the Editor:

In every age, wherever people have built communities, the danger of fire has loomed on the periphery.

Calm summer evenings and quiet wintery nights have been spliced by the sound of a fire station alarm. Men and women from all walks of life have scrambled to the call, the majority of which were volunteers. Volunteers staffed the first fire stations in the United States and not much has changed……except their numbers.

Here in Northampton County, the volunteer firefighter shortage has reached a critical emergency state. Volunteers make up the largest part of our state’s firefighter personnel. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), 72 percent of North Carolina firefighters are volunteers, and fire departments across our state have lost an average of 600 firefighters every year since 2016.

What are the stark effects of this volunteer shortage? Fewer volunteers create the need for us to call on other departments outside our district to assist. This strains other departments and leaves fewer firefighters to respond if a fire breaks out elsewhere.

There’s also a very grim statistic in this…. every four days in North Carolina a life is lost to fire. That’s one person gone every week or less.

We’re taking action. The North Carolina Association of Fire Chiefs (NCAFC) and the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) launched a campaign with 12 North Carolina counties, including Northampton, to boost volunteer firefighter recruitment. To support our vital efforts, the NCAFC obtained a SAFER grant through FEMA.

Our strategy in Northampton County includes a combination of traditional recruitment methods along with advanced technology to pinpoint the communities likely to have recruit candidates. We’re offering leadership workshops, supporting policy changes and advocating for employers who allow volunteers to take time to help their communities.

Anyone, from grandparents and teachers to college students and mechanics, can play a role. We seek administrative and marketing personnel and even beckon entire families to volunteer together.

Since our country’s foundation, volunteers have banded together to keep us safe from the hazards of fire. Helping our fellow neighbor is one of our most iconic American traits — and a vital need that we’re determined to see survive.

Please join us.

For more information, visit

Captain Paul Nowell

Gaston Volunteer Fire Dept.