A bill Governor Ritter signed into law Wednesday has caught the attention of several local fire departments who say it could go a long way in helping them keep the volunteer firefighters they rely upon.
With only one completely full time fire department in Mesa County, local fire officials say they wouldn't be able to function without their volunteer firefighters.
"The volunteers are the biggest part," said Palisade Fire Chief Richard Rupp. "They do the most work when we get a call."
"They are the backbone of this fire department," said Greg Martin, Assistant Chief for the Clifton Fire Protection District.
The Palisade Fire Department has two paid staff members and roughly 30 volunteer firefighters. The Clifton Fire Protection District has 12 full time firefighters and 20 volunteers.
Officials say while having those numbers are vital to their operations, keeping them there can get tricky.
"We have so many calls we have been experiencing burnout," said Martin.
"Retention is one of our biggest issues," said Rupp. "Part of it is it's just hard to make a living."
Officials say in some cases volunteers don't understand the work load when they sign on and decide they can't do it for what they're getting back. In other cases, they say firefighters are just anxious to move on to a full time job at a full time station.
They say they do their best to give volunteers a reason to stay with them, offering things like small stipends and pensions. So when the state can step up and offer incentives for volunteer firefighters, they say it's a good thing.
"Anything helps," said Rupp. "It does."
Wednesday, Governor Ritter signed a bill into law that will give any qualified volunteer firefighter a tuition voucher to take a three credit course at a state community college. Fire officials say it's definitely something that will help them keep up with their increasing demands.
"It's just another tool we can use," said Martin.
"I think it's gonna help," said Rupp. "We're hoping that it will."
The new law is set to take effect in August.
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