Rural fire departments offering incentives to recruit more volunteers

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HUNTSVILLE, Ark. (KNWA) — A Madison County fire department says its in crisis mode, and is now ramping up its recruiting efforts.

Huntsville is just one of many rural departments struggling with retaining firefighters.

The Huntsville Fire Department goes on anywhere from 450 to 550 calls a year with no paid staff.

That means its up to volunteers to go on emergency calls, if there’s anyone available at that time.

Chief Kevin Shinn says he’s doing everything he can to recruit more volunteers and ask the city for money so he can can pay staff.

In the meantime, he’s using social media like Facebook ads, and offering rent-free, utility-free living quarter incentives to add firefighters to his roster.

You can live at the station if you volunteer 40 hours a month and meet other requirements.

“If we had a situation where we could get three paid members…we had two members on staff during those hours, during work hours Monday through Friday with a third who could augment…we could have a defensive structure. We could be in a position where we might be able to…get more people on scene here,” Shinn said.

Shinn says not only will more staff help with fire response, it could lower Huntsville’s rating from the Insurance Services Office (ISO), which is currently a four.

The best ISO rating is a one.

Homeowners insurance could drop anywhere from 10-20%, he says, if it’s lowered to a three.

A shortage of firefighters at rural departments is a nationwide problem.

The age to volunteer is now 18-year-old instead of 21.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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