A legislative task force has released a ten point plan aimed at improving recruitment and retention within the Delaware volunteer fire service.
State Senator Bruce Ennis (D – 14th) is co-chair of the Volunteer Firefighter Recruitment and Retention Task Force, and a life member of Citizens’ Hose Company No. 1 in Smyrna.
He said the numbers don’t lie when it comes to the decline in volunteers attending training programs at the Delaware State Fire School since 2009.
“There were like 508 that year,” said Ennis, “ten years later in 2019 there was only 189.”
Clayton Fire Company President Kevin Wilson said the plan looks at volunteer recruitment as a statewide issue, not just at individual firehouses.
“Now we need to look at this as one state, one task force, one mission,” said Wilson.
Proposals vary from the use of AmeriCorps members to serve at firehouses, tuition reimbursement for college students volunteering, and an increase in the tax credit for members of volunteer fire companies from four-hundred dollars to one-thousand dollars.
“For two hundred years they’ve been a wall of protection for residents,” said Ennis, “but now that wall is being threatened because we don’t have the firefighters.”
Recommendations from the task force include:
- 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.
- Expand theSussex County Operations GEM cadet firefighter program for children ages 10-15 to all school districts.
- 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.
- Increase the income tax credit available to volunteer fire company members from $400 to $1,000.