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Recruiting younger volunteers a priority for volunteer fire departments

Brandywine Hundred Fire Company

With declining rates of volunteer firefighters in the state, lawmakers are looking for ways to boost recruitment.


While volunteer firefighter recruitment numbers vary from company to company, overall the state has seen a decline in new firefighters.


Enrollment in entry-level training courses at the Delaware Fire School is less than half what it was a decade ago.


The Volunteer Firefighter Recruitment and Retention task force released its final recommendations to bolster membership in the state’s 60 volunteer fire departments.


State Sen. Bruce Ennis (D-Smyrna) was the co-chair and a long time member of the fire department in Smyrna. He says youth engagement is important for recruitment.


“And that’s where we’re losing them — from 15 on up. Because if they don’t get exposed to the volunteer fire service or EMS service by the time they get a drivers license you lost em,” he said.


One of those recommendations includes doubling the income tax credit volunteers receive from $500 to $1,000. The state only recently upped the credit from $400 last year, where it was for the past eight years according to Ennis.


He says a larger tax credit will be more appealing to younger volunteers.


“For individuals that are working, young adults, even teenagers that are working, we think that tax credit is a good retention tool,” Ennis said. “A lot of em, the young kids aren’t too much interested in pension benefits — they’re saving money and getting their education and advancing.”


Ennis says he’s already working on implementing some recommendations this legislative session. Funding was secured for a new administrative position at the Delaware Fire School, focusing on training and overseeing the AmeriCorps program.


Leveraging new federal funding coming to Delaware for AmeriCorps, departments statewide look to host full-time corps members at their companies.


Ennis is also introducing a bill to create a tuition reimbursement program for volunteer firefighters attending public college in Delaware. The fund would start at $120,000 this year, but could expand if it proves successful in recruiting college students to volunteer fire companies.


Roman Battaglia is a corps member withReport for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

Roman Battaglia grew up in Portland, Ore, and now reports for Delaware Public Media as a Report For America corps member. He focuses on politics, elections and legislation activity at the local, county and state levels.