Colorado needs 6,000 more volunteer firefighters

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Colorado Springs Firefighters fight an overnight house fire on Friday, October 15.

MORRISON, Colo. (KDVR) — There’s a shortage of volunteer firefighters across the country, and Colorado is no exception.

“It’s just gradually getting worse each year,” said Ken Wettstein of the Colorado State Fire Fighters Association.

“Fire doesn’t know the difference if you’re career or volunteer,” Chief Skip Shirlaw said.

Shirlaw is chief of the Inter-Canyon Fire Protection District, and they are also experiencing a shortage.

His department is made up of four paid firefighters and 27 volunteers. At its height, about 50 volunteers worked with them, he said.

The issue, he said, is recruiting new members.

“We aren’t able to pay anybody and we’re asking you to put your life on the line for someone you’ve never met,” Shirlaw said.

Shirlaw explained it isn’t easy convincing someone who works 40 hours a week to add more commitment and risk their lives.

“Calls are going up, volunteerism is going down,” Shirlaw said.

He said that statewide, about 6,000 more volunteer firefighters are needed.

Covering an area, especially in the foothills and Rockies, is already a challenge, never mind fewer people to help do it.

“Right now to get to the furthest reaches of our district, if we had a call, is about 35 minutes,” Shirlaw said.

Therein lies the impact: response times, ever-increasing with fewer volunteers to help cover ground — ground that can vary in distance: “16 miles away to 30 miles away to 45 to 50 miles away,” Wettstein said.

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