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Your local fire department needs your help

Feb. 13, 2020

A firefighter at the scene of a structure fire

We’re lucky to have a robust, professional fire service here in Minnesota. It means that when there’s a fire, we can take for granted that our local fire department will show up and do its best to prevent loss of life and property. But the number of firefighters is dwindling. Firefighters are retiring or otherwise leaving the fire service, and there aren’t enough people stepping up to take their places.

In fact, firefighter recruitment and retention is one of the biggest issues facing Minnesota fire departments. And did you know that most Minnesota firefighters are volunteers? When we say “most,” we mean that of the over 20,000 men and women who fight fire in Minnesota, 18,000 do it for free or for very little pay. That means only 7.4 percent of them are career firefighters – meaning that’s their full-time job. Of the 775 fire departments in our state, only 18 are career departments.

Like their career counterparts, volunteer fire departments not only respond to fires, they also provide ambulance and other life-saving services. And that ends up being part of the recruitment and retention problem: The time demand of being a firefighter can be a barrier, as can the monthly training requirements and the dangers inherent to the job.

As a result, Minnesota fire departments are exploring new ways to provide services, such as sharing equipment and resources with neighboring fire departments. They work together to apply for grants and training money.

The State Fire Marshal Division (SFMD) and the Minnesota Board of Firefighter Training and Education (MBFTE) are also pitching in to help improve recruitment and retention. The SFMD, for example, has four fire service specialists who are educating fire departments statewide about recruitment and retention and giving them ideas and resources to improve it. And the MBFTE fully funds fire departments for basic firefighter training for hundreds of firefighters each year to help ease the financial burden. 

Do you know who else can help Minnesota’s fire departments keep their communities safe? You. They need people like you to volunteer. If you want to learn more, contact your local fire department. They won’t make you gear up or go into a burning building to learn more about becoming a firefighter – but it may just turn into the most rewarding thing you ever do.