SALT LAKE CITY – Utah firefighters are gearing up for a busy wildfire season, but their ability to battle fires is in jeopardy. Local fire departments don’t have enough volunteer firefighters and worry there’s no easy solution.
“We`ll expect to see some fires as temperatures warm up,” said Jason Curry, Utah Division of Forestry Spokesperson.
Curry says the wildfire season could be especially difficult. To make matters worse, there’s a shortage of volunteer firefighters.
“Our volunteer firefighters are our first line. Whenever a call goes into 911, to report a wildfire, they`re the first ones to arrive. So, we rely on them very, very heavily.”
“It`s a big concern not just in Utah, but all over the country,” said David Owens, assistant director of training, Utah Fire & Rescue Academy. Owens is a former deputy chief with the Ogden Police Department. He says rural communities are hit the hardest.
“Most of Utah is staffed by volunteer firefighters. Without that they don`t have a fire department,” Owens said.
Increased training and stricter requirements to become certified are major hurdles.
“People nowadays, the soccer dads and moms that come in, find out just how much that is and they say I can`t do that,” said Owens. “If you add it all up, it`s close to 500 hours of training not to mention study time to get you to a point to run a pump, run a truck.”
The Utah Fire & Rescue Academy at Utah Valley University offers free training and certification through state funding. But Owens says you have to re-certify every three years – turning many volunteers away and putting departments at risk.
“Many of the volunteer chiefs have come to us and said, I don`t care if they`re certified. I need to have somebody show up who is not going to be a liability.”
As a temporary solution, Owens is looking at helping departments with a more tailored program, teaching them what they think they need. But until then, recruiting and retaining volunteers will continue to be challenging.
For more information about the Utah Fire & Rescue Academy, click here.