Rural fire departments are often staffed by volunteers who see it as a way to serve their communities. But being a volunteer firefighter or emergency medical technician "involves much more than just showing up for emergencies. In many ways, rural volunteer fire districts must work harder than 'career' departments to secure adequate funding, to maintain a workable infrastructure, and to recruit and properly train enough crew members for their needs," Kat Bryantreports
for The Daily World in Aberdeen, Washington.
Because fire-department funding is mostly based on locally assessed taxes, less-populated areas get less funding. But sometimes state law requires volunteer fire departments to provide extra services that they don't get compensated for, Bryant reports.
Assistant Fire Chief Shari Cutright of Fire District 8 in Pacific Beach, Washington, told Bryant that, for example, their EMTs must transfer some patients to paramedics for more advanced treatment. "Under state mandate, if a person is having difficulty breathing, it’s automatic that we have to meet up with paramedics, and they transfer the patient," Curtright said. "We get nothing from that; they get everything."
"And by 'everything,' she means the ALS transporter [the company the paramedics work for] charges not only the patient, but also District 8 for that run," Bryant reports. "That is generally how it works for the rural fire districts: [districts that provide only basic life support] must pay either monthly or per-transport fees to neighboring providers for paramedic coverage as needed."
Poor road and communications infrastructure can also complicate response for rural fire departments. Nick Falley, a firefighter and EMT with Fire District 7 in rural Washington, told Bryant it's difficult for volunteer firefighters to lobby local governments to address infrastructure problems. "When I bring it up with the county, they say we have these radio board (meetings) that are scheduled at times when our volunteer chiefs are at their (day) jobs" Falley said. "Career departments have the resources to vouch for their infrastructure, and then we kind of get the slim pickins — and we’re out in the areas where we really need it."