IOWA FALLS — Volunteer firefighters are vital in Iowa, especially in our rural areas, but they’re retiring in droves and new recruits are direly needed to join the ranks. Members of the Iowa Firefighters Association plan to appeal to state lawmakers in the upcoming session to help get more people interested in volunteering.
The association’s past president Jason Barrick, who serves on the Iowa Falls Fire Department, says new incentives are needed at the state and local level. “You’re not going to get rich off of being a volunteer fireman,” Barrick says. “That is not why anybody does it. Most departments in Iowa are absolutely unpaid. There are some volunteer fire departments that do have the benefit of getting paid but even at that, they’re averaging probably, each fireman, maybe $1,000 to $1,500 a year.”
Barrick says one recruitment possibility is to try and reach young people at the high school level. Barrick says, “There’s some programs out there that we call cadet programs or junior firefighter programs that just bring young kids aware of what the fire service can do for them and where it can take them in life, both personally and professionally.”
The cadet programs work, Barrick says, and he’s seen the results first-hand. “We had one a few years ago here in Iowa Falls,” Barrick says. “It was very strong and we have eight fire members on currently now that were in that junior program back ten years ago.”
The Iowa Firefighters Association has about 15,500 members, while there are 269 volunteer firefighter departments in Iowa.