VFD’s desperate for volunteers, funds in hard times

Published 11:39 pm Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Note: This is the second in a series of features to focus on responsibilities, needs and benefits of volunteer fire departments in Escambia County.

Sometimes it takes a disaster to know just how many volunteers there are working a thankless job to help in a community.

None of these volunteers are more visible than the volunteer firefighters that are on the front lines to protect both life and property.

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Jerry Gehman, fire chief for the Nokomis Volunteer Fire Department, said fires are not the only time you’ll see volunteers responding to the needs of the community they serve.

“We had some bad weather in Nokomis on recently,” Gehman said.. “We responded to that the same as we would to a fire. We were on the scene for approximately three hours and had two trucks there. We don’t know if it was straight line winds or possibly a tornado, but we had lines and limbs in the road.”

The response to trees downed in the Nokomis community is just one example of emergency calls answered by a shrinking number of volunteers.

Gehman said the costs to keep volunteers trained and provide proper safety and firefighting equipment for those volunteers is continuing to rise — making their work harder to do.

“It is getting more expensive to meet the requirements we have on us,” Gehman said. “Two of my sons have recently joined the fire department and they have to drive to Brewton to get the training that is required, and they have to pay their own expenses. They have to furnish their own vehicle and it gets expensive going to and from those classes.”

Gehman said some fundraisers help to offset costs of running the department and keeping credentials of firefighters current.

“We try to have some fundraisers each year to help with the costs, but they don’t usually raise that much,” Gehman said. “We have 16 volunteers in our department and each one of them has had to be trained. We also have an EMT with training that runs around $1,000.”

Although training and equipment is costly, Gehman said the volunteers on board with the Department are there for a reason.

“Sometimes that EMT may be someone’s lifeline,” Gehman said. “Many of the firefighters make it a family affair with other family members joining. I have another son who will follow in the footsteps of his dad and his brothers when he is old enough.”

County needs are rising in areas of volunteerism. Currently there are 24 volunteer fire departments in Escambia County with just over 300 volunteers.

To become a volunteer, contact the volunteer fire department in your community or visit your nearest municipal fire department for details.

Volunteer fire departments regularly offer training opportunities for those who have a desire to become a volunteer. Equipment and supplies for the job are provided.