(The Center Square) – With volunteerism on the decline nationwide, Illinois finds its shortage of volunteer firefighters has reached a critical level.
Kevin Schott, vice president of the Illinois Firefighter’s Association, addressed the shortage with The Center Square as efforts are stepped up to retain and recruit volunteers.
“Overall, we’re at a critical point in the state of Illinois,” he said. “The crisis is real.”
Schott cautioned the problem is not as severe in every volunteer fire department because some have succeeded with recruiting and retention, but the situation is getting worse in recent years and needs a remedy.
Of the reasons for the shortage, Schott said work, money, family demands and even COVID-19 are all factors, but there’s also the time commitment.
“You don’t just sign up and jump on the big red truck and go put water on the fire. There’s a considerable amount of training that has to be done in the state of Illinois,” he said.
But the rewards are also great, especially when lives and homes are saved, Schott said.
The shortage of volunteer firefighters is one that impacts safety, not only in communities but along the highways that they cover, and thus has become an issue for legislative action. A $500 state tax rebate for volunteer firefighters is one of the ways that the Illinois Firefighter’s Association is hoping to combat a critical demand for volunteers.
Schott, also Montgomery County’s director of emergency management, said the rules for this $500 rebate are being crafted. But this is only one way that the association hopes to reverse the volunteer decline.
“We’re going to be working with legislators more in the upcoming year to see what we can do for some incentives,” he said, noting the importance of incentives to retain firefighters as well as to attract them.
For community members who could never imagine themselves jumping on a fire truck and putting out a fire, he said there are many ways to support your local fire department.
“Sometimes in the middle of winter, somebody making coffee for the firefighters is a godsend,” he said. “So, you don’t have to be overly physically fit to assist your local fire department. Go talk to them.”