Volunteer firefighters needed as demand grows

PHILLIPSBURG, Ohio (WDTN) – For six years, Lt. Nick Magoteaux has been getting into his fire equipment, loading into a truck, and rushing to a fire.

He loves it so much, he is doing it for three separate fire departments.

“Phillipsburg, I do about four days a week and then I do Harrison Township at least twelve hours every sixth day,” said Magoteaux. “I do Bethel Township when I can.”

It is a typical schedule for him and others working as a part time or volunteer firefighter in a rural area.

In Phillipsburg, he works in a department with no full time staff. There may be as few as two people working at any given time.

It can result in resources running thin during an emergency until mutual aid arrives.

“During the day is our most crucial time because most people have day jobs,” said Magoteaux. “That’s when you’re going to see the fewest amount of people. That will be the two people who are paid to be here during the day.”

Further south in Montgomery County, another fire department struggles with getting volunteers.

Unlike Phillipsburg, however, Sugarcreek Township struggles finding volunteers during the night and the weekends.

“We are a business of numbers,” said Sugarcreek Township Fire Chief Randy Pavlak. “It takes five to eight people to cover a car crash. It takes fifteen to twenty to handle a house fire.”

Those are numbers that can get stretched for larger departments.

Sugarcreek Township Fire Department normally has twelve full-time firefighters at the station with volunteers to help pick up the slack.

But since 2000, the number of volunteers has dropped from 30 to 16.

It is a situation being seen across the state. Pavlak believes the pressures of dual income families and increased training requirements has fewer people able to volunteer.

Without people willing to help, it could negatively impact response times and the amount of people able to put out a fire.

“The better staffed you are, the better you can respond to the call for emergencies,” said Pavlak.

In 2013, the state of Ohio issued a grant for fire departments to help recruit and train volunteers.

Last year, nearly 900 people applied to be a volunteer firefighter.

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