Some Tennessee fire departments seeing a shortage of volunteer firefighters

Posted at 5:20 PM, Feb 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-14 21:12:00-05

NOLENSVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — When every second counts, your local fire station might be empty. That's because more than 70% of Tennessee fire halls are staffed by volunteers. Those volunteers are becoming harder and harder to recruit.

Amber Fox is a volunteer at the Nolensville Fire Department. By day, she's a store manager at Subway. "I work anywhere between 50, 60, 70 hours a week," says Fox.

By night, she's a mother of a seven-year-old. She says, any other spare time is usually spent at the fire hall. "Trying to juggle everything is a bit of a struggle," she says.

Selfless servants like Amber are becoming a rare breed. Nobody knows that better than Nolensville Fire Chief Adam Spencer. "Back in the 50s and 60s, this was kind of a social event. People could survive off of one income. And now, parents, both of them are working," says Spencer.

Chief Spencer says the best way to recruit is to find other adrenaline junkies like Amber. Beyond that, he hopes to expand the number of stipends he can pay volunteers. "It helps maybe cover a babysitter for the night, or maybe dinner," he says.

One day, he hopes the city might be willing to pay some or all of his staff. "Nobody’s making a profit here, nobody’s really making a paycheck. We’re paying to keep the lights on when you call 911," says Chief Spencer.

In the meantime, Amber hopes her status as a volunteer eventually evolves into a career. "My ultimate goal is to try to become a paid firefighter/medic," says Fox.

Nolensville tries to have their station fully staffed around the clock, but when no one can come, in dispatchers typically try to call the next closest volunteer fire hall.