Coronavirus complicates ongoing recruitment issues for fire and rescue departments

Those who help us need some help of their own

ROANOKE COUNTY, Va. – As many people struggle to find a job during the coronavirus pandemic, some employers are still struggling to find workers, including local fire and rescue departments.

Recruiting has been an ongoing struggle for Roanoke County Fire and Rescue, much like most departments across the country.

The coronavirus; however, has amplified not just day-to-day challenges, but potentially long-term ones as well.

“I think a lot of people that come into this job like being there to assist others when they need help,” said Michael Dunn, a firefighter and paramedic in Roanoke County.

Dunn answered the call to serve as a first responder seven years ago.

“No one calls us unless they need something,” continued Dunn.

Now, the helpers need some help of their own.

“Always a crucial need for volunteers,” said Brian Clingenpeel, the community outreach coordinator for Roanoke County Fire and Rescue.

The department is not unique in the recruiting challenges it faces, but it is somewhat unique in that the department is made up of both paid staff and volunteers. Right now, there are 188 full-time employees and 250 volunteers.

Clingenpeel said that in recent years, they’ve been seeing fewer applications. That hasn’t changed this year, but the coronavirus has certainly made an already challenging process even more difficult.

“Back in March or April, we just weren’t even accepting volunteer applications because it was impossible to let people from the outside come into stations for volunteer meetings or to do ride-alongs to see if they think this is something they would enjoy,” Clingenpeel said.

The pandemic is stretching the hiring process out even longer. Following health guidelines means agility tests and written exams must be socially distant, limiting the number of people they can have in one space. New policies are efforts to minimize the health risks in an already risky job.

“I think it just takes a special kind of person that wants to put themselves in harm’s way for somebody else,” Clingenpeel said.

“You trust the experts, you trust the PPE and you just take it one call at a time, one day at a time,” Dunn said.

Clingenpeel said it’s tough to say whether the pandemic has impacted their numbers at this point. He thinks they’ll have a better idea as they move forward with the next academy, slated to start in January.

Click here for more information about joining the department.

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Jessica anchors 10 News on Saturdays and Sundays at 6 and 11 p.m. You can also catch her reporting during the week.