Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana fire departments stretched thin by volunteer shortage

TRENTON, Ohio -- "You can't fight fire with three people," Trenton Fire Department Chief Darryl Yater said Wednesday, but that's how many part-time firefighters are on duty in his department during the day.

That's a problem when they get a call for a structure fire that needs 15 pairs of hands on deck.

Volunteer firefighter shortages have impacted departments all over the nation, forcing some, like Trenton, to rely on mutual aid from nearby departments. And Trenton is comparatively fortunate -- it actually has part-time employees, as opposed to the entirely volunteer-run St. Clair Township and Wayne Township fire departments.

Cindy Phillips is a squad captain with the Wayne Township Fire Department, but participating stacks on top of her day job as well as those of many other volunteers. There are situations when the people on whom Wayne's residents depend are simply too busy to respond in force.

"There are times when the pager goes off and due to my family -- between my family and my children -- I'm not able to go," Phillips said. "I physically can't, and that bothers me. I know many of the others feel the same way."

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Capt. Daniel Holt, also of the Wayne Township Fire Department, said the time requirements of not only the volunteer participation itself but the certification training place a strain on potential members.

"The fire volunteer is a 36-hour card to begin with, and from that point there's a state requirement of 54 hours every three years to re-certify," he said.

Yater seconded: "It takes time, and people were just not putting the time in that's required to be a volunteer."

This is bad news for the 61 percent of Ohio fire departments that are entirely volunteer-run. That percentage is even higher in Indiana -- 74 -- and Kentucky -- 76 -- and can reach nearly 100 percent in states such as Delaware, Minnesota and Pennsylvania, where almost all fire departments are all or mostly volunteer-based.

"The money is just not there for a full-time department," Yater said.

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