Across the nation, numbers of volunteer firefighters are down, and Southington is no different. Southington’s Fire Department is made up of a combination of both career firefighters and volunteers, and right now, efforts to recruit volunteers are of high priority.
Since January 2010, the SFD has lost a total of 126 volunteer firefighters. Under the direction of fire commissioners chair Nate Wilson, the Southington recruitment and retention committee was revamped this summer.
“When I started as commission chair, the biggest concern we had was the volunteer efforts were kind of falling behind,” said Wilson. “We need more retention within the department, and we need more recruitment. That was a huge concern.”
The committee began meeting over the summer and has been focused on outreach and visibility within the Southington community.
“The problem is visibility. If people don’t know there’s a need, they won’t come,” said commissioner John Moise, who chairs the retention and recruitment committee. The committee hopes to reach people by attending town events such as the Apple Harvest Festival, Halloween in the Village and White Christmas in the Community.
They also hope to work with the board of education to reach high school students.
“Everyone talks about going to college, or going into trades, but how often do they talk about going into police or fire?” said Moise. “It’s a demanding and valiant job, but it’s a labor of love and it’s so important. And, if they don’t know about it, the door’s not open.”
There are many incentives available for those interested in becoming a volunteer firefighter. There is a yearly tax abatement of up to $1,000 for a full share (responds to 60 percent of calls) and $500 for a half share (responds to 35 percent of calls), or property or vehicles registered in the volunteer’s name in the Town of Southington. The exact amount is determined by the amount of tax paid.
In addition to the tax abatement, volunteers can receive a reimbursement for their gym memberships up to the cost of a YMCA membership. Volunteers also may qualify for Town of Southington health insurance, 24/7 life insurance coverage and on-duty life insurance. They will receive professional firefighter training through the SFD.
“All of these incentives are available but really the biggest incentive is that you can save a life and help people in need,” said Moise. “That’s the most rewarding thing about this.”
Wilson said the department does not have the levels of volunteers it needs, particularly for day-time incidents.
“We need strong volunteer firefighters in Southington—we need to be sustainable and to be able to respond to what the public needs,” said Wilson. “Having families and after-school and after-work activities can make that difficult. This is a nationwide issue.”
To become a volunteer firefighter, visit joinSFD.org and download the application. Return the application to the SFD headquarters at 310 N. Main St. Five days after submitting the application, call the headquarters at (860) 621-3202 ext. 8133 and schedule an interview and weigh-in with the assistant fire chief, who will assign each volunteer to the company within his or her district.
Volunteers must then attend a meeting with the officers of their assigned company. Applicants must receive a physical within a week of the initial interview. After the administrative office receives notice of the outcome of the physical, the company captain will contact the applicant.
The probationary period is one year. Within the first year, all new members must be entered into a Firefighter 1 class, pending openings.
Learn more at www.joinSFD.org. For information about the SFD, visit www.southington.org/content/17216/17425/default.aspx
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Roy, email her at SRoy@SouthingtonObserver.com.