A local fire chief has voiced concern about the future source of committed volunteers for his city’s fire department while speaking at a local civic organization’s monthly luncheon.
Long-time Desloge Fire Chief Larry Gremminger commented on the matter while speaking recently before the city’s chamber of commerce.
“The fire department has 20 volunteers at this time,” he said. “We could use 40. I'm a full-time volunteer fire chief — but I make my living as a full-time production supervisor ... and I've been there for 30 years. I’m seeing a trend down there that scares me a little bit because I see it here as well. I thought it was just the volunteer side of things that was going to be an issue.
“We have businesses that pay quite well. I work for a very large company who has a really good pay scale for this three-county area. It is 25 miles from Desloge and you don't have to go to the city. There's benefits — 401ks and things like that. I don’t want to slam the youth. I never will because I still believe that’s our future, but we do have to have some guidance there.
“I don’t know where we’re going to get our next round of volunteers from because we’re having a hard time getting our next employees. We can’t get people to stay with us because when you train them on days and tell them they have to work at night the next week — or that they might have to work a Saturday or Sunday — it seems like it’s over right then and there even if they're getting paid a very good wage.”
Gremminger admitted that he’s growing more concerned all the time about being able to find volunteers who'll stick with his department and believes the problem will only grow more difficult in the years ahead.
“I’ve discussed numerous things with prior administrations and gonna be having those discussions with [Desloge City Administrator Dan Bryan] coming up very soon — that we’re going to have to start looking at some part-time roles in the next year, probably, if we’re going to make it. We’re going to have to fill some voids. All of us that are there now have to work.
“My dad, Jim, was at the station for over 62 years — affiliated with the department, not there the whole time — for 62 years. I serve right now with an assistant chief that was at one time the chief. Ken Hawkins has been there for over 50 years. I walked in there at age 15, so I’m gonna give away the age right up front.
“I’ve been there 45 years — 21 years as chief — and I’ve seen a lot of things change over the years. We need to have qualified volunteers to help in our department and other fire departments around this area — and I hope we will. If we don’t, it’s going to be a problem.”
Elizabeth Cummings with the InterExchange’s Career Training USA program was also touting the continued importance of volunteerism.
"[A] commitment to volunteerism has been a hallmark of American civic life since the country's founding," she said. "It was Benjamin Franklin who formed the first volunteer fire department in 1736, and many American militias during the Revolutionary War were comprised of volunteers.
"Some of the most well-known American charitable organizations, such as the YMCA and the American Red Cross, were founded in the 19th century. Not only does volunteering allow people to help others through direct action, but it fosters an incredible sense of community, as well."