Fire departments and EMS squads in the area have seen a decline in volunteer enrollment from 1% to 23% over the past five years. In an evaluation of why we are losing volunteers, it is based partially upon population decline in rural areas, an increasing older population, and an aspect among the younger generations that if they are going to volunteer, it should be beneficial and structured.
Young Adults, who are a source for sustaining services, are declining in our rural areas with the age groups 19-45 being the smallest. In general, southwestern Montana is older than the rest of the state and country; the median age is 45.5 years old. Our volunteer firefighters are slightly younger at an estimated 44 years old.
Moreover, young adults have a different sense of community involvement, are technically savvy rather than mechanically savvy, and typically spend less time in service to their communities than their parents and grandparents. While they are interested in community, they seek value for their time and may be pulled in multiple directions: family, jobs, and hobbies. They are more likely to travel for both work and leisure and be out of the community for longer periods of time than other generations in the past.
All of these factors result in a shallow pool to draw from during an event. Since 2005, Montana has closed 38 rural fire departments, lost more than 1800 volunteer firefighters statewide, and it is estimated we will lose up to 12 % of our firefighters in our departments per year without a comprehensive recruitment campaign.
Our goal is to stem the tide of attrition and potential loss of services in our area.