Recommendations Released To Grow Volunteer Firefighting In Del.

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Delaware’s system of volunteer firefighting companies would be strengthened under a plan produced Monday by a legislative task force. The panel has come out with a ten-point plan focused on recruitment and retention of volunteer firefighters.

Recommendations include enhanced tax credits and tuition reimbursement for volunteers. Also, a coordinated marketing campaign is being proposed that would highlight the benefits of volunteer firefighting for young people.

“For over 200 years, the volunteer firefighter has served as Delaware’s first line of defense against the accidental and intentionally set fires that threaten the lives of neighbors and cause millions of dollars in property damage each year,” State senator Bruce Ennis, D-Smyrna, said. Ennis is co-chair of the Volunteer Firefighter Recruitment and Retention Task Force and a life member of Smyrna’s Citizens’ Hose Company No. 1. 

“Today, the wall that has protected Delaware families for generations is being threatened by apathy and neglect as our volunteer fire companies struggle to recruit new members and raise the public donations they depend on for their very survival,” Ennis added. “The plan put forward by this task force may not reverse the national trends that are causing volunteer fire departments to close across the country, but it will help to hold the line here in Delaware and hopefully even breathe new life into the public service organizations that have protected us for generations.”

The task force was established in 2019. According to sponsors, 57-percent of Delaware firefighting companies are mostly volunteer, 40-percent are all volunteer, and the number of entry-level candidates enrolled in the Delaware State Fire School fell by half during the decade before 2019.

“The men and women of Delaware’s Volunteer Fire Service make a difference in the lives of Delawareans every day,” Delaware Volunteer Firefighters Association Executive Manager and Rehoboth Beach Volunteer Fire Company member Warren Jones said. “We hope more people will see the need to serve their communities and join this great group of dedicated individuals. We are looking forward to the Task Forces’ recommendations to turn the tide in the decline in volunteerism.” 

The following recommendations were highlighted in the report:

  • Develop a recruitment and retention training class at the Delaware State Fire School to share best practices across departments. 
  • Establish an AmeriCorps Program through the DHSS Volunteerism Office that would assign full-time members to companies in all three counties with stipends paid by county governments. 
  • Add a training administrator to the Delaware State Fire School to manage the AmeriCorps program. 
  • Launch a volunteer firefighter recruitment website and marketing program paid for and administered by the Delaware Volunteer Firefighters Association. 
  • Promote the advantages and potential career opportunities that come with joining volunteer fire companies to youth in Wilmington. 
  • Offer public safety classes in firefighting, EMT and/or EMR through the Career Technical Education programs offered by Delaware’s vocational technical school districts. 
  • Make courses taught by the Delaware State Fire School eligible for college credits. 
  • Offer tuition reimbursement to undergraduate and graduate students attending higher education institutions in Delaware who volunteer with a local fire company for a set number of hours. 
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