"Back in the '70s, we had 300,000 volunteers. We're down to roughly 50,000 now". It's made folks look for different ways of trying to recruit, just find out why we don't have folks wanting to volunteer anymore." The reasons behind the falling number of volunteers is multifaceted. The job itself is more demanding, more training is required by fire departments and more people work outside the community where they live.
There's also a major economic shift in families that limits volunteering. "Yesteryear ... there were a lot of families where they were fortunate enough to just have the one member or the one parent have to work and could support the family and still had a lot of time to volunteer in departments". "Today, with just the way economics are, financially, it almost takes both parents to work, to raise a family."
There's another reason fewer people are willing: Being a volunteer requires a lot more fundraising than it does firefighting. "Probably the No. 1 reason it's become very difficult, I think, to get and retain volunteers is they join the department to do something good for their community," he said. "But it has become such a mandate of fundraising that 90 percent of the time that an individual puts in, in many cases in a fire department, is to raise the money to be able to have the materials, the equipment, the stuff to do what they're doing for free for their community."
Costs add up quickly. A new firetruck could cost between $500,000 and $1 million. And the majority of funding comes from local government.
The role of a firefighter has changed in other ways, too. According to the National Fire Protection Association, fire departments nationwide responded to more than four times as many medical calls in 2013 than they did in 1980, from 5 million to 21.3 million calls.
At the same time, the number of fire calls departments respond to in the same time period has decreased by nearly two-thirds, from 3 million calls in 1980 to 1.2 million calls in 2013 nationwide.
Another sign that firefighters are older: Last year, nine out of the 10 line-of-duty deaths in Pennsylvania were due to medical conditions brought on by the stress of the job. "That shows our aging population of volunteers". The average age of firefighters in Pennsylvania is around 45 years old.
from Common Dreams by Jake Johnson
California's Thomas Fire has been raging for just over two weeks in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, and it has already torn through hundreds of homes, more than a thousand structures, and over 273,400 acres of land. Now, as the Los Angeles Times reported late Friday, the fire has also burnt "its way into the history books," becoming the largest blaze ever recorded in the state's history.
"The fire eclipsed the 2003 Cedar fire in San Diego County, which burned 273,246 acres," the Times notes.
"The Thomas Fire has burned an area larger than New York City, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco combined—and larger than any city in California except Los Angeles," adds CNN's Nicole Chavez.
As of Friday night, the fire was just 65 percent contained, and firefighters are expected to be working around the clock until mid-January. President Donald Trump has yet to issue a major disaster declaration for Southern California.
"It's a monster," Santa Barbara County Fire Division Chief Martin Johnson told ABC News. "We all recognize that. But, we will kill it."
Fueled by powerful winds and extraordinarily dry conditions, the Thomas Fire is just one of many blazes that have ravaged California in recent weeks, forcing hundreds of thousands to evacuate and killing dozens.
Friday's "milestone reaffirmed 2017 as the most destructive fire season ever in the state," the Times observes, highlighting a series of fires in the state's wine country that destroyed more than 10,000 homes in October. Meteorologist Eric Holthaus has described the conditions surrounding California's fires as "once-in-a-generation."
"What should make Southern California fearful is that climate change could mean a future of more frequent and more intense wildfires."
--Los Angeles Times Editorial Board
Earlier this month, just days after the Thomas fire kicked off, the Los Angeles Timeseditorial board starkly warned that the unprecedented 2017 fire season could quickly become the new normal if action isn't taken to address and mitigate the human-caused climate crisis.
"What should make Southern California fearful is that climate change could mean a future of more frequent and more intense wildfires," the Times concluded. "Today's fires will end, and what we do afterward—assessing how to better prepare, and how and whether to rebuild—will influence the damage from the fires next time."