Hard to get people to 'commit' to firefighter lifestyle, official says

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ANDERSON CO., Tenn. (WVLT) - It's a problem fire stations across the country are dealing with: a shortage of manpower. Some volunteer fire departments in East Tennessee are also feeling the effects when it comes to staffing their stations.

Andersonville Volunteer Fire Department Chief Ambrea Peters said the extra time commitment is one of the biggest reasons she sees a shortage at her department and for others around the area.

"I think everybody is just so busy anymore. In the volunteer service, you're going to have a job outside of the volunteer fire department, and for most people, that's a 40 hour week and it keeps you busy, and you have families and children, and they have sporting events and so on and so forth, so I think people are just finding themselves with less and less time to give," Peters said.

Although the shortage is concerning, they learn to work with what they have.

"It's something that most of us are all to familiar with and accustomed to, so we have just adapted to it and that's what we work with," Peters said. "Ideally, you want no less than 10 to 12 people on a simple residential structure fire. The more the better, obviously, so if you don't have that many people turn out, you still have a fire to fight. You still have a job to do, so you have to work with what you have."

Not only is the shortage of manpower felt at the volunteer level, but officials said it is becoming more and more challenging to recruit paid firefighters as well.

"It is difficult to get people to make the commitment to this career," Jeff Bagwell with Rural Metro Fire said. "The fire service is really not a job, it’s a career, a lifestyle, and to get folks in 2019 to commit to that career is a bit challenging."

"Multiple different trainings that you have to go through to be ready to answer calls, and that's what the shortage is, more people get busier schedules and have less time to do these things," Zach Kennedy, with the Andersonville Volunteer Fire Department, said.

Kennedy said the ability to help others makes the commitment and training well worth it.

"It's all about, how do you want to push yourself," Kennedy said.

Chief Peters said they hope to continue to reach people who might be interested to let them know volunteerism is needed.

"Advertising, if you will, to reach out to people and let them know there are still volunteer fire departments and not everyone is paid for what they do, and try to get people on and interested," Peters said.