The numbers of volunteer firefighters are declining across the U.S., forcing some towns to hire professional replacements, the New York Times reported June 22.
There has been a 5 to 10 percent reduction in volunteer firefighters’ numbers since 1983. The volunteers represent 74 percent of the U.S.’s firefighters.
There are many reasons for the decline. Two-career families are common, and men who have assumed some of the burdens of child-rearing have less time to spend at the firehouse.
In many towns, housing prices have driven out the blue-collar workers who were mainstays of volunteer fire forces. They have been replaced by well-educated professionals, who have no history in the community and little time to volunteer.
The logical solution is to hire professionals. Tensions often spring up between paid and volunteer firefighters, however, with the first group fighting to preserve a community tradition and the second seeking more union jobs. Many communities are slowly making the shift nonetheless – when the call comes, the fire department must be ready.