POINT PLEASANT — It’s been said you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink - the same can be said for recruiting volunteers, including volunteer firefighters.
As Flatrock Volunteer Firefighter Steve Durban put it, convincing people to join the ranks is like anything else, saying, “it’s like going to church, you have to want to go.”
Durban, along with representatives from each of the county’s fire stations, appeared before Mason County Commissioners Miles Epling, Rick Handley and Bob Baird this week for an impromptu discussion about the difficulties currently facing firefighters.
A factor hindering the retention of volunteers, according to many of the firefighters, is the amount of schooling now required to simply maintain certification. These classes often require time that many volunteers with day jobs don’t have. For example, a basic firefighter class now requires 120 hours of schooling and though departments often pay for the classes, there are no funds to reimburse for lost wages or fuel costs.
Another issue facing departments, the skyrocketing costs of workers compensation premiums. Point Pleasant Fire Chief Jeremy Bryant said his department’s workers compensation premium went from $1,800 one year to $11,000 the next.
Commissioner Rick Handley said the county has tried to incorporate at least some small increases to fire departments each year. Firefighters said the money they get from the county is about 60 percent of their annual budget. Other departments attempt to do fundraising efforts to help offset costs. Handley also suggested departments apply for grants through the Mason County Community Foundation which has an application deadline of March 1.
Handley then asked what the commission could do to help the departments with the different issues raised but Bryant said he just felt those in local government should be aware of the issues which could greatly affect fire coverage in the future. Another firefighter also brought up legislation currently being discussed which would put control of fire department’s in the hands of the county commission. As it stands now, Mason County has the cheapest fire protection in West Virginia, because it’s free, according to Point Pleasant Firefighter Jim Blake.
Handley, Baird and Epling all expressed their gratitude for the job the firefighters do and presented each department with commemorative plaques. Those departments were Valley, Flatrock, New Haven, Mason, Leon and Point Pleasant.