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Local Volunteer Fire Departments Face Staffing Shortages

By Stephanie Malench

smalench@timestribunenews.com

In 2018, there were over 36 million calls made to fire departments across the United States. Of those calls, 1.3 million were fire calls and nearly 23.5 million were for medical aid.

Over half of the fire fighters that respond to these calls are volunteer fire fighters. In this area, Troy, Glen Carbon, Maryville, Marine, and St. Jacob have volunteer only fire departments. All are experiencing a shortage of volunteers to respond to calls during the day.

All departments are connected to each other through a system called MABAS (Mutual Aid Box System). In a recent example, a fire call was received on the afternoon of December 14 in Collinsville. Not knowing what the severity of the call was, Fire Captain Tim Rainey pulled the alarm dispatching back up from Troy, Maryville, Glen Carbon, and Edwardsville.

Three Collinsville Fire Department trucks and an ambulance responded, quickly assessed the situation and sent the Edwardsville truck back en route. While the fire on Vandalia was put out, fire fighters from Glen Carbon and Troy covered the two fire houses in Collinsville, with Glen Carbon even responding to an ambulance call in Collinsville while on back up.

Because all the departments are linked through the box, a shortage of fire fighters in one community can impact the surrounding communities as well. Each department decides whether or not to respond to calls on back up from their own department or travel to the community they are helping.

Below is background for each of the volunteer fire departments, the requirements and how to apply if interested.

Troy – Troy Fire Protection District Chief Ed Collins said staffing during the day “is not what we would like during the district.” Prospective volunteers need to live in the 64-square mile district, be at least 20 years old, possess a high school diploma or GED, have a clean driving record and pass a background check. Currently there are 30 active members and they are always looking for more volunteers.

Volunteers are on probation for one year. Training for new volunteers is for 2-3 hours on Monday evenings and all volunteers train together on Thursday evenings. Once an application has been turned in and completed, the fire department will send the prospect out for a complete physical. About 85% of all calls are strictly EMS related.

Collins said he would be happy to talk to people interested in applying and see if there is a way they can contribute; “If you want to help the fire protection district, come down and apply”.

Applications are available at the fire station located at 116 W. Clay St. in Troy or through the website (www.troy-fpd.com) under Emergency/Public Services.

Glen Carbon – Fire Chief William Wilson said that a new focus since he took over in June is making sure all of the volunteers possess certifications. Previous administration would send the volunteers to training courses, but not enforce taking the test to get certified.

Williams believes this is not fair to taxpayers and they deserve certified volunteers. The courses cost the same whether or not the test is completed. Initial certifications that prospective volunteers must show certification of or get certified in include FAE Certification, Basic Fire, and Machine Ops (Extraction). The department will provide these trainings for those that need them, and training takes about 18 months.

Volunteers must be at least 18 years of age with a GED or high school diploma, pass a medical physical and general fitness agility test (carrying equipment on a timed course).

Williams said they have approximately 37 volunteers who are currently all going through the certification process and they always have openings. He also said the majority of calls are EMS, with only 8-10 structure fires each year due to the fact that 70% of the buildings in Glen Carbon are less than 30 years old.

Applications are available online at www.glencarbonfire.com or at either fire station (199 S. Main St. and 430 Glen Carbon Rd) in Glen Carbon.

Maryville – Deputy Fire Chief George May replied via email that “the Maryville Fire Department has a strong group of dedicated members that protect the citizens of our community. Being a member of the Maryville Fire Department takes a large time commitment to stay well trained and be available to respond to all types of emergencies both day and night. The members of the Maryville Fire Department take great pride in our training and readiness to respond to when our community needs us most.”

Requirements to be a volunteer firefighter in Maryville include living within four miles of the Maryville fire department, being at least 18 years of age, high school diploma or GED, and be cleared by their physician to perform the duties of a fire fighter.

The majority of the calls responded to during the day are EMS calls. Maryville has automatic mutual aid with Troy, Glen Carbon, Collinsville, and Edwardsville fire departments through the MABAS system.

There are currently 27 volunteers on the roster with space for up to 40. Applications are available at the Maryville Village Hall, fire station, and their Facebook page, Village of Maryville Fire Department.

St. Jacob – St. Jacob Fire Chief Nic Klaus said that the fire fighter shortage during the day is typical of rural communities where most people work outside the village. Klaus currently has 33 active volunteers and tries to plan ahead if he knows a number of volunteers are not available at any given time. He prefers to send at least 2 volunteers out on each call, 90% of which are EMS calls.

Highland ambulance automatically responds to all St. Jacob Fire Department calls and the MABAS system is used as needed.

Requirements include living in St. Jacob Township for at least one year and be between 18 and 35 years of age unless the volunteer has previous experience. All volunteers are on call 24/7. All training is done in-house, and includes how to clean and use all PPE and breathing equipment, driver practicals with the fire engine and trucks, and how to operate the hose at a fire.

Applications can be obtained at St. Jacob Village Hall, or by emailing Klaus at Nklaus13@yahoo.com.

Marine – The Marine Fire Protection District is 85 square miles, and has approximately 200 calls each year. Fire Chief Daren Kessinger reports during the day only about three to four volunteers are able to report to calls. Like St. Jacob, the majority of the calls are EMS and Highland ambulance responds to all calls.

Requirements include being 18 years of age and living in the Marine Fire Protection District. Volunteers must have fire fighter 2 level training or can take the in-house course. The Air Pac physical must be passed annually.

Applications are available by calling the fire department at (618)887-4221 or stopping by the fire station if staffed.

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