Volunteer firefighters needed after historically low recruitment at Cave Spring

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ROANOKE COUNTY (WSLS10)-- The Cave Spring Volunteer Fire Department is dealing with a shortage of firefighters. WSLS10 has been following staffing shortages for several months, but historically low recruitment numbers for volunteers are leading to bigger issues. If more people don't sign on by the end of the summer, it could mean slower response times in an emergency.

With fewer volunteers, the turnover is higher-- as current volunteer firefighters are being pushed to their limits. The typical volunteer shift is overnight, from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.

It's a vicious cycle that Chief John Chambliss says started earlier this summer. Typically, the department expects a few of the volunteers to leave in the spring when they graduate college or find new jobs. Those positions are usually filled with other seasonal volunteers who are back in town or new recruits, but this year, those additional numbers just didn't come in.

The lower number of volunteers could eventually impact the 45,000 homes and businesses in Southwest Roanoke County. With less volunteer firefighters, crews from other departments would be called to respond-- but instead of taking only one or two minutes to arrive, the response time could jump to eight minutes or more.

"In addition to the time it takes us to get there, you add that additional time and a fire can basically double in size every minute," says Chief Chambliss. "You want to get to it as quickly as possible."

As of right now, there are about 25 active volunteer firefighters split into teams, each working one shift a week. Some of those teams are only made up of two or three volunteers, which isn't enough to operate all of the equipment.

"We have a minimum need of three people on a truck," says Chief Chambliss. "In order to get three people, you probably need four or five, because someone may be sick or may have to work odd hours. We've got to backfill it with someone along the way, so the more people we have the better we are."

For many people, their biggest concern is the cost. Chief Chambliss says that a majority of the costs, including equipment and training, are all covered.

"We provide a lot of the things," he says. "What we need is the people and the time. This is a way to put a little structure in your life as well.

If you're interested in volunteering, there are two events coming up this week:

Volunteer Information Session

Tuesday, June 28

6 - 7:30 pm

Sweet Donkey Coffee House

2108 Broadway Avenue, SW Roanoke

Volunteer Open House

Saturday, July 2

11:30am - 2:00pm

Station No. 3

4212 Old Cave Spring Road