Volunteer firefighter shortage in Torrance County

Posted at: 01/07/2013 10:20 PM
Updated at: 01/07/2013 10:29 PM
By: Joe Vigil, KOB Eyewitness News 4

Torrance County is trying to tackle an ongoing problem facing many rural areas around the state. Some of the county's five fire districts are short volunteer firefighters.

A couple of firefighters recently quit.  When volunteers cover 4,500 square miles in Torrance County, losing a couple of firefighters can certainly have an impact. "We can't afford to lose any of our volunteers at all," Torrance County Fire Marshall Jason Trumbull told KOB Eyewitness News 4.

Torrance County has paid to train many volunteers only to lose them to other departments that pay. Trumbull and other leaders said emergency tones that go out to fire districts aren't always answered immediately because of volunteer shortages. And they said some volunteers don't respond because they have full time jobs that they can't always leave.

Trumbull said dispatchers will send out a second tone if the first one isn't answered within two minutes. In some cases, crews picking up the call could be miles away from the actual emergency, causing delays in getting help to the scene.

Torrance County is working to keep volunteers. There has been talk about paying volunteers on a call-by-call basis. Trumbull said he applied for a 1.5 million dollar FEMA grant to pay for 14 full-time paid firefighters. He said they would staff all five districts 24 hours a day.

The department didn't get the grant. "Once we were eliminated we re-applied right away. And those grant announcements right now are on hold due to hurricane Sandy," said Trumbull. The department is also holding the first of its kind fire academy to help train volunteers locally instead of having to send them to Socorro for a couple weeks. The department is also asking for people to volunteer as firefighters. Torrance County will pay for the training. Those interested are urged to call the Torrance County Fire Department at 505-384-2705.