Volunteer fire departments face challenges - CBS 3 Springfield - WSHM

Volunteer fire departments face challenges

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HAMPDEN, MA (WSHM) -

Winter-related fires and the cold weather are stretching Western Mass volunteer fire departments thin and new recruits are hard to come by.

"All of them have other jobs or they're students," said Hampden's volunteer fire chief, Michael Gorski. 

Gorski is like other volunteer fire chiefs across Western Mass - they face an uphill battle trying to get new recruits.

"We put them through pretty rigorous training so some people wash out after a little while of going through those obligations," he said. 

His department has 30 volunteers. None of them are full-time firefighters and many spend their days at jobs out of town.

"It's very difficult to count on that help during the day," he said. 

He's not alone.

Volunteer fire chiefs in other parts of Western Mass are facing the same struggle.

Worthington's fire chief says he responded to 14 calls in 15 days last month and sometimes he was alone at the scene for minutes.

In Hampden, they're trying to boost their recruitment through town-wide outreach. But even that isn't enough.

"One of the things that we've decided we have to do is look at younger people and say, 'Look, we might only keep them for five years because a lot of them want to be career firefighters at a career fire department,'" Gorski said. 

New recruit and Hampden native Meaghan Rogers is helping increase the numbers at the department.

She joined the team Monday night.

"I'm really excited to get started and see what's in store for me and help out the community," Rogers said. 

Firefighters have faced sub-zero temperatures in recent days, making the job even less desirable to new recruits.

"The last thing we want to see is a fire call during that kind of weather," Gorski said. 

Hampden's fire department has also lifted their rule of only hiring people from town.

They now hire people that live within a one-mile radius of Hampden to try and pull in more recruits.

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