Car fire at GHCC showcases need for more firefighters in Ozark County
Gainesville Fire Chief Doiron says he cannot thank the Pontiac and Tecumseh fire departments enough for their quick response to assist him at a car fire-turned-structure fire at Gainesville Health Care Center Friday, March 10.
Fire response in Ozark County is currently at a dangerous stage, as Ozark County fire departments are critically short on members and volunteers who are able and willing to show up when toned out.
The Ozark County Sheriff’s Department dispatch log shows an increasing number of 911 calls for fire or medical emergencies that go unanswered by the reporting district because there are no volunteers available in that department to respond.
Dispatchers then reach out in mutual aid, pleading for nearby departments to send volunteers to the scene.
Response times are lengthened, many times in moments of crisis when residents feel like every second is a lifetime as they watch their homes swallowed by flames or other emergency play out before their eyes.
“Most fires take three to five fire departments to get just 10 people that are willing and able to fight fires safely,” Doiron told the Times. “Most departments average only two to four active personnel that will respond to calls, and some are getting burned out. Today's save would not have been possible without having mutual aid departments members already in town able and willing to respond when needed, while carrying the proper protective equipment with them to be able to safely help at a scene.”
Nationally, volunteerism has been on a steep downward slide for the last few decades, and many volunteer fire departments are struggling. In Ozark County, the average of firefighters is nearing or topping 60 years old, and these members are starting to "age out," Doiron said.
“This is one area of the country that can not sustain this downward trend much longer. At some point in the near future, this area will have to start paying for fire protection through a county wide fire protection district tax such as Taney County and many other counties in the state,” Doiron explained. “The current membership setup is not working due to the percent of property owners that choose not to pay their annual dues. Every little bit helps.”
Currently, Ozark County’s volunteer fire departments operate on a system in which residents in that area can choose to pay fire dues each year, but the dues are not mandatory. The exception is the Gainesville city limits which operates its fire department on a half-cent city sales tax supplemented by the city’s general revenue fund. But, even if the departments were funded completely, the lack of volunteers is a real problem.
“...the main concern is lack of able bodied volunteers to respond to calls. These numbers need to increase. Training and protective equipment is supplied for those that are interested. What the general public doesn't realize is that it costs members money to ‘volunteer.’ Fuel, time and other miscellaneous expenses are required of volunteers. Being an active volunteer also requires constant training to be able to meet national standards of fire and rescue work the volunteers are doing almost every day.”
For those who would like more information on how to pay fire dues in your fire district or how to volunteer, call the Ozark County Times office at 417-679-4641, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Staff here will work to put you in touch with the fire chief in your respective district.