By Dr. Shana Nicholson, faculty member, Emergency and Disaster Management at American Military University
Fire departments across the country are struggling to recruit and retain volunteer firefighters. Small departments in rural areas are especially dependent on volunteer firefighters to serve and protect their communities.As a firefighter with Shinnston Volunteer Fire Department in Shinnston, W. Va., our department has emphasized a family-oriented approach in order to recruit volunteers. This approach has resulted in far less personnel turnover than the average volunteer department as well as a strong camaraderie within “The Ten House.” This legacy of service extends through multiple generations, with parents passing their knowledge, dedication, and passion for the fire service to their children.
How Does “The Ten House” Make It Work?
In 2014, Shinnston Volunteer Fire Department responded to 642 alarms. These alarms ranged from structure fires and medical calls to vehicle accidents with injuries and entrapments. The department, which serves about 10,000 residents for initial response and mutual aid, is fortunate to have more than 40 volunteer members, many of whom are legacy firefighters. It is only possible to have this many volunteers because the department has the support of families and community members.
The Shinnston Fire Department actively involves the families of its volunteer firefighters so individuals can more easily balance personal lives with serving their community. There is a certain social aspect of a small rural fire department that includes cook outs, holiday celebrations, birthdays, weddings, and even football games.
The Ten House also holds events for “Friends of Ten” as a way to show appreciation for the support of family, friends, and community members. It is not uncommon to find several volunteer firefighters, their spouses and children playing in the bay on any given evening in Shinnston. As most firefighters know, the bonds are formed during down time in the station just as much as on the fire ground itself.
Assistant Fire Chief Derek McIntyre’s wife, Megan McIntyre, discussed how important it is to include everyone in the auxiliary components of fire service.
“If you are a dedicated member to your volunteer fire department but you don’t include your spouse or significant other in it, then your service may not last because something will have to give if your relationship is going to work,” she said.
The McIntyre’s are huge advocates for the continued legacy in the fire service and heavily involve their children in the activities within the department. Their son Colton (age 5) is pictured here with another legacy member, firefighter Mark Jefferies, whose father was also a member of the department.
In order for rural communities to maintain a robust volunteer fire department, it is critical that the department actively involves families of its volunteers and other community members so the value of service continues to be passed from one generation to the next.
About the Author: Dr. Shana Nicholson has more than 20 years of emergency medical and fire science service experience. She is currently a member of Stonewood Volunteer Fire Department in West Virginia. Her professional background also includes government, social services, and nonprofit administration. She is currently a faculty member in emergency and disaster management at American Military University. She received a bachelor’s in criminal justice from Fairmont State University, a master’s of science in human services with a specialization in criminal justice and a PhD in human services with a counseling specialization, both from Capella University.