State Fire Marshal Sterling Lewis is again calling on the WV Legislature to do something this year to address growing problems with volunteer fire departments in the Mountain State.|
"The recruitment and retention situation in the fire service in West Virginia, as it is in the entire United States, is at a dire point," Lewis said.
Many VFDs have been struggling to stay operational as they search for new recruits and money to pay for training and rising workers' compensations costs.
During last year's legislative session, lawmakers passed a last-minute bill that provided about $5 million to VFDs to pay some rising workers' comp costs. Departments had been facing an increase of up to 700 percent on the premiums.
Lewis said VFDs now face a number of more stringent regulations for those who can become firefighters.
"It used to be if you could put on your boots and hold a hose, you're a firefighter," Lewis said.
"There's been a lot of standards that have been set by the federal government, the NFPA and any organization that deals with firefighting," he said.
The stricter rules come on top of a declining interest from residents in many areas to serve as a volunteer firefighter.
Lewis said much of that is connected to a change in where people work. He said people used to work and live in the same community, but now commutes to work often take up to an hour.
The work issue has affected volunteers in Calhoun County.
"Somewhere we have to make a distinction," Lewis said.
"Are we going to send these men and women out trained sub-par to a national standard? Or are we going to train them to the level where they can provide leadership to the other firefighters and train those firefighters to where they can self protect."