White County Commissioners recently voted to give their volunteer firefighters a raise — from $10 per call to $15
But the growth in population in Northeast Georgia has made mostly volunteer fire departments increasingly scarce.
Hall County counts on the service of just one volunteer, Fire Chief David Kimbrell said.
“Hall County used to have volunteers,” he said. “We don’t have a volunteer program any longer. However, we still have one person that is on our volunteer role. He still responds to calls.”
The rest of the department’s staff are full time. The volunteer program came to a halt in 1989, Kimbrell said.
The case in neighboring Forsyth County is the same.
The department used to be primarily volunteers, until the 1970s, Forsyth Fire Chief Danny Bowman said. Now, it is a career-oriented, professionally staffed department of 126 career firefighters, 14 volunteers and 20 employees.
“We have over 12,000 calls a year, so that really does call for a full-time staff,” he said. “My volunteers primarily handle what is known as ‘rehab’ when the volunteers come out. They take their blood pressure, get them rehydrated and take care of them in the rehab area.”
Because White County Fire Services is almost entirely volunteers, their 62 firefighters don’t spend time hanging out at the station, Public Safety Director David Murphy said.
“They are paged, responding to calls from their home or place of work,” he said.
Some departments have a much older history of professionalization.
In Gainesville there hasn’t been a volunteer firefighter program since the 1890s, just a few years after the department’s founding, interim Chief Jerome Yarbrough said.