Assessing the cost burden on California's volunteer firefighters

The main objective of this study was to answer the question: What, if any, cost burden is assumed by California’s volunteer firefighters? While there are many studies on volunteerism in fire service, none directly examine the out of pocket expenses that may be incurred by non career-track firefighters. Volunteer fire departments represent a substantial cost savings in areas such as rural communities. However, studies indicate that often volunteer fire departments do not provide adequate equipment, leaving volunteers in the potential position of having to buy their own equipment. A more complete understanding of the price of being a volunteer firefighter would inform future policies designed to retain and support fire service volunteers. Sources of Data I obtained relevant data from a telephone survey. Responses were gathered from twelve fire chiefs in randomly-selected, all-volunteer fire departments throughout the state. Respondents discussed the costs of training and equipment and related expenses, as well as the non-monetary costs of the hours volunteers must spend in training and on duty. Conclusions and recommendations The results suggest that although volunteer firefighters do have out of pocket expenses, the costs do not appear prohibitively high, and volunteers for the most part accept expenditures as a part of the responsibility of service. Some volunteers are also on a career track, which may induce them to regard training and equipment as an investment. Based on the findings, the state should consider policy options designed to help communities that wish to augment the training and equipment that may be lacking at the level of the volunteer fire department. Such policies could include offering grants, matching funds, and low-interest loans. A follow-up study, including a comprehensive survey of volunteer firefighters, is needed to obtain a clearer picture of the state of volunteer fire service in California.

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