Beyond Critical: After a wild 2022, volunteer fire departments needing more personnel for 2023

The need comes as many departments have seen an increase in all sorts of call types, which many don't expect to decrease any time soon.
Updated: Dec. 27, 2022 at 4:08 AM CST
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - Wildfires, crashes, an increase in medical calls, and records shattered.

That’s 2022 in a nutshell for the numerous volunteer firefighters and EMTs who answered the call over the course of the year. Now going into 2023, while the request for help is the same, it’s much more dire than it’s ever been before.

“All the departments in county, and the state, with the exception of Lincoln -- we’re all volunteer, and everybody has the same issue,” said Firth Fire Chief Doug Doeschot. “I think a lot of the people outside the city of Lincoln in Lancaster County don’t realize that. All the districts are this way.”

Those volunteers were put to the test, across many of the departments in the area. Two in particular, Waverly and Hickman, hit new records when it comes to calls for service.

“So this year, we’re on a record pace. The last number of years, every year, we’ve had an increase in the number of calls for service,” Hickman Fire Chief Art Robertson said.

“If things keep trending the way they are, calls are going to be potentially another record-setting year,” Waverly Fire Chief Jared Rains added. “If I rely on the same core group of people to continue to run 365 calls per year, that’s a lot.”

Burnout has more recently been on the minds of many department leaders, especially in the months and years following the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It would make life a lot easier for the volunteers that we do have that they’re not running all the calls,” Doeschot said.

As Robertson states, volunteer personnel in the fire or medical service are not actually what many people make them out to be.

“The stereotype is the big, extremely physically fit, young, hard-charging, individual,” he said. “But really the physical requirements are not what most people expect them to be. There are so many different roles; usually there’s a role for you if you’re wanting to serve the community regardless of what physical limitations you might have.”

“You can have nurses, EMTs, anybody that’s interested,” Rains said. “Even down to the point of, at some point, I might just need some people that just want to drive apparatus. I’m always looking for qualified people that are willing to donate their time.”

“It is a crucial component of our community, along with lots of other roles that folks fill,” Robertson added.

Since Firth began the process of adding an ambulance service, the department has added around a dozen new members. To the north in Bennet, their volunteer department added six new members in December, as they get ready to add their first ambulance service, as well, in 2023.

With the opening of the South Beltway, Hickman Rural Fire & Rescue is in the process of getting ready to add more members to their department as 2023 begins. Bennet has, and is still in the midst of that process, as part of the South Beltway is also in their district. Like Hickman, Bennet is also anticipating an increase in calls for service because of the Beltway’s opening.

(Ryan Swanigan (KOLN))

In terms of training, department chiefs say the necessary training will come once an applicant is approved to join.

“If this is something that you feel drawn to, we’d love to give you the opportunity to participate,” Robertson said.

“All the district in the county need the help,” Doeschot stated.

If you’re interested in becoming a volunteer for a rural fire department, and live in their district, one of the ways to reach out is by visiting their website or messaging them on Facebook. Below is a list of the departments in Lancaster County, as the ways that you can reach them:

Raymond Volunteer Fire & Rescue: website & Facebook page

Malcolm Volunteer Fire & Rescue: website & Facebook page

Southwest Fire & Rescue: Facebook page

Southeast Fire & Rescue: Facebook page

Hallam Fire: website & Facebook page

Hickman Rural Fire & Rescue: website & Facebook page

Firth Rural Fire: website & Facebook page

Bennet Rural Fire: website & Facebook page

Waverly Fire & Rescue: website & Facebook page

Volunteer departments with jurisdictions in Lancaster County, but based outside of it:

Pleasant Dale: website & Facebook page

Crete: website & Facebook page

Cortland: Facebook page

Eagle: website & Facebook page

Greenwood: Facebook page

Ashland: Fire Department website & Facebook page; Rescue website & Facebook page

Ceresco: Facebook page

Valparaiso: Facebook page