Economic pressures, more training requirements, waning population – it all adds up to fewer volunteer firefighters and EMTs. The need in Inyo County went public from Olancha and Lone Pine first where a serious lack of EMTs had hurt the volunteer ambulance services associated with the fire departments. Then the push for more volunteers spread countywide. Now, Inyo has a nearly $1 million federal grant to increase volunteers on fire departments.
What’s called the SAFER grant program is designed to retain current volunteers and attract new ones through pre-tax benefits like payments on medical visits, care for dependents, contributions to 401Ks, and accident insurance. The SAFER grant officials say that Inyo County’s six fire departments include some 114 volunteers when 170 volunteers are actually needed to effectively respond to the number of calls received.
Bishop Fire Chief Ray Seguine said fire volunteer numbers have gone down everywhere in the past 10 years. He said social issues have contributed to the drop in numbers – things like economic pressures and both parents working. Chief Seguine said that the additional training requirements have turned others away from volunteering.
Seguine sees the grant program helping to attract volunteers andto keep current ones involved. The financial benefits only go to those volunteers who perform to a certain level.
Inyo County’s volunteer fire departments have a lot of territory to cover and need dozens more volunteers. The departments serve nearly 18,000 people over more than 10,000 square miles. All six fire departments now have benefit programs through the new federal grant.