As communities in southeast Wisconsin continue to grow, so does the need for volunteer firefighters. Fire Chief Tim Allen of the Union Grove Yorkville Fire Department has been in the business for decades, so firefighting is in his blood.
"I grew up in this business. My dad did it for 34 years, so I have been here since I have been a kid," said Allen.
He said over the years he has noticed the number of volunteer firefighters decrease and the call volume increase. On average, they respond to about 700 EMS calls and 225 fire calls, but this year the number has increased.
"This year compared to last year is probably our biggest increase we have had in 10 years. We have seen just shy of 100 extra EMS calls," said Allen.
For his department, the number of volunteers comes and goes in waves. The station has 34 volunteer/paid on-call staff members. Allen said they are lucky enough to get by, but sometimes staffing during the day can get tricky. Allen said he has had to get creative in his way to attract new recruits. Soon they will offer a program that pays for day care when a person is on call.
"We are trying to see if that might spur some people and help us out a bit. You kind of have to be creative and think outside of the box, see what works," said Allen.
Allen said the reason the number of volunteers across the state and nation is decreasing is due to the increase in training.
"Everybody is facing the same problems. I haven’t heard of anybody that says, 'Oh, we got a ton of people,' " said Allen.
To help recruit and retain new volunteer firefighters, state Sen. Patrick Testin and lawmakers proposed a bill called the B.R.A.V.E Act.
"We have roughly 863 fire departments here in the state of Wisconsin, and 701 rely solely on volunteers and an additional 100 rely on part-time volunteers. The vast majority of our fire departments are dependent on men and women who volunteer their time to protect our communities," said Testin.
"Everybody is facing the same problems. I haven’t heard of anybody that says, 'Oh, we got a ton of people.' "— Fire Chief Tim Allen
The B.R.A.V.E. Act would provide three different tax credits. The first is a $300 credit for new volunteers that would double after five years. The second is a $400 credit for minor equipment and travel; the last credit is $500 for training purposes.
"There is not that next generation of volunteer firefighters, so we think it’s critical given the fact that the number of calls have tripled in the last 10 years that we provide our township and communities some sort of incentive for individuals to become volunteer firefighters and first responders," said Testin.
If you would like to become a volunteer/paid-on call firefighter with the Union Grove Yorkville Fire Department, call 262-878-4181 for more information.