The number of volunteer firefighters serving Davidson Fire Department hasn't changed much over the last 20 years, but incoming calls have increased in volume and complexity.
"Our call volume has increased by a factor of 10," said Frank Molinek, a 17-year volunteer and assistant fire chief in charge of recruiting. "And more challenging calls have come in because of the growth and types of structures now in Davidson."
In response, Davidson Fire Department for the first time is seeking help from outside its normal volunteer pool.
Previous by-laws only allowed people to become volunteer firefighters if they lived or worked in Davidson's fire district. Now, experienced firefighters from outside the district - as well as people without experience who live or work in Davidson - can apply.
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"We're hoping there's a group of experienced firefighters who want to be volunteers and have no other way to serve," Molinek said.
He said there's a potential pool of talent in communities like Concord, Charlotte and Mooresville, cities that only have paid staff at their fire departments.
"Ideally, (candidates) will have a couple of years experience and be certified by their home departments," he said. "Is that population there? We hope so."
The department also is putting out the call to the local residents interested in putting in the work.
"The bottom line is we need people," said Carl Cormier, a 10-year volunteer and assistant fire chief. "We used to just pull a hose and put water on a fire, but now it's about understanding the equipment and the environment you're going into. You have to assume and be prepared for the worst."
The department now has 24 fire-ready volunteers and 13 of them have more than five years experience. An additional eight volunteers are in their probationary period, working toward fulfilling 240 hours of mandatory training within two years.
The department also hires part-time workers from a pool of Charlotte firefighters who work different day shifts throughout the week. During nights and weekends, it's staffed solely by volunteers. The Charlotte firefighters who work in Davidson go above and beyond the mandatory training required for volunteers in a rigorous 26-week program.
A "green" or beginning volunteer recruit will be highly useful, but because of the time commitment required, they will only be minimally qualified after their initial 240 hours of training, Molinek said. Most volunteer firefighters will need at least three years of consistent training and on-the-job experience before Molinek will grant them more responsibility.
"It's like taking your drivers ed course," he said. "You can drive but you're not ready for NASCAR."
The department began to formally staff its facility and a nearby residence about two years ago, Molinek said. Before that, volunteers were contacted via pagers and drove to the station from their homes, lengthening response time considerably.
"It would be seven to nine minutes before the engine left," Molinek said. "Now it's one to one-and-a-half minutes."
Volunteers are required to sleep in the department's quarters at least three nights a month and attend training one night a month.
The excitement and status of the position may lure some people, but ultimately, it's not what keeps people interested, Molinek said.
"You realize really quickly it's a serious commitment," he said.