Craig Fire/Rescue struggles to keep volunteers | CraigDailyPress.com

Craig Fire/Rescue struggles to keep volunteers

Janelle O'Dea

Craig Fire/Rescue has had an abundance of applications in the past two or three years, but for several reasons, they are still looking for volunteers.

This year's recruitment period ends on Nov. 7, but Captain Kevin Kernen said if he has volunteers approach him or anyone wants to volunteer after that date, he won't turn them away.

The Craig Fire/Rescue team is made up entirely of volunteers. The only full-time paid staff member is administrative assistant Tonya Mercer.

Currently, Kernen has 23 firefighters. But in the past, the number has been 30 or more.

Kernen said Craig Fire/Rescue typically loses two or three people per year because of retirement, people moving out of the community or lack of time for the commitment. After a while, the loss of people every year begins to add up.

Captain Kernen said the latter is usually the biggest struggle in recruiting volunteers. Craig Fire/Rescue is a volunteer operation, and firefighters often have one or more other full- or part-time jobs and sometimes a family to raise, too.

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During the last recruitment period, Kernen said he started with four participants and only has two left. Sometimes people get into the training program and realize they do not have the time required for the position.

To be a firefighter, volunteers must commit to finishing the Firefighter One program, a training regimen required by the state of Colorado.

Firefighter One is a year-long program and requires participants to spend Friday nights and Saturdays learning about their new position, safety, equipment and possible emergencies for the first six or seven months. Then, the firefighters will be tested on calls and have some on-the-job training.

Kernen said he likes to have 30 or more volunteers on-call. A shortage of volunteers means more work for the volunteers that are already on staff.

"Besides running calls, we take care of maintenance at the fire station, and there’s a lot of other duties and behind the scenes stuff we do," Kernen said. "We do fire inspections and some public relations stuff, like visiting the schools."

Jeremy Ashton, investigator at Moffat County Sheriff's Office and volunteer firefighter is finishing his second year in December. He said the training is "tough" and said it was tough even for him. Ashton was a professional firefighter in California from 1996 to 1998.

"It has to be something that you really have in your heart and you’re really committed to doing," Ashton said.

Contact Janelle O’Dea at 970-875-1795 or jodea@CraigDailyPress.com or follow her on Twitter @jayohday