The NVFC believes that the federal government has a role to play in helping emergency services agencies recruit and retain volunteers. Through the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant program, administered by FEMA, local agencies can obtain funding to implement recruitment and retention programs. Additionally, federal taxation of volunteer benefits needs to be made easier to help local communities establish and maintain incentive programs.
There are nearly 800,000 volunteer firefighters serving in approximately 27,000 communities across the country. The services donated annually by these volunteers are estimated to be worth approximately $140 billion. Additionally, there are more than 200,000 volunteer EMS providers who are not cross-trained as firefighters.
Fire and EMS agencies are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain the next generation of volunteres. Over the past five years, the number of volunteer firefighters in the United States has declined by nearly 44,000 even as the average age of volunteers has steadily risen. In 2012, 30 percent of firefighters protecting communities of 2,500 or fewer residents were 50 years of age or older - up from 18.9 percent in 2000.
Shifting demographics have left fewer working-age people with less free time available in communities served by volunteers. At the same time, increased training and certification requirements have made volunteer emergency response an extraordinarily time-consuming activity.
In order to bolster volunteer staffing levels, many local communities now provide incentives like uniforms, reductions in property taxes and other fees, per-call payment or stipends and retirement accounts. Volunteer benefits tend to be small but even modest incentives show volunteers that their service is valued.
"Volunteers are vital to enabling this country to live up to the true promise of its heritage."