BARABOO, Wis. - Fire chiefs for several small-town fire departments are trying to recruit new volunteer firefighters.
It's rare to recruit firefighters, particularly in Sauk County, but recent retirements, a bad economy and even the flood of 2008 are to blame for the staffing shortages, and officials desperate for new volunteers are pleading with the public.
"It's been real tough this last year," said Rock Springs Interim Fire Chief Chuck Kissack. "We had a pretty good-sized department and then when the flood hit, people just kind of moved out."
The water washed away 20 homes, taking the recruits with it in Rock Springs.
"You get them in, start training and then they get a job some place else and away they go," Kissack said.
For now, 16 firefighters fill the roster that Kissack said needs eight more. Rules only let him hire within a five-mile radius, and the volunteer firefighters don't get paid. They also must undergo 60 hours of training and complete tests.
But in Baraboo, where it's busier, crews get paid for every one of the 300 calls they go on yearly.
"Every individual is different, but once they experience it, I think they get hooked on it," said Baraboo Fire Chief Kevin Stieve.
Stieve is trying to get five more members to fill the daytime demand. He said some firefighters have jobs that take them too far away.
"Some of those people work out of town, so they're unavailable, and then different employers don't allow their employees to leave based on their business plan and so they're unavailable as well," Stieve said.
Despite the hassle, the chiefs said they are hopeful the promise of a long-lasting partnership is worth more than anything else.
"It sure isn't for the money," said Kissack, laughing.
It can cost upwards of $3,000 to outfit new firefighters. Baraboo's chief has budgeted for that.
Rock Springs is hosting fundraisers to help, such as its first annual chili feed, coming up on Oct. 13 at 6 p.m. at the Rock Springs Community Center.
To volunteer, people can reach the departments at:
- Baraboo -- 608-355-2710 or www.cityofbaraboo.com/fire
- Delton -- 608-254-8404
- Rock Springs -- 608-522-5535
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