Volunteer Firefighters Increasingly Depend on Neighbors


You've heard of a three-alarm fire, but a three-man fire? The reality is many volunteer departments simply don't have enough manpower to get the job done alone.

When the 911 call comes in, Terry Webb knows his neighbors are depending on him.

"It could be your life, your family's life, your grandparents, your kids," The Dannebrog chief said.

He joined the Dannebrog volunteer fire department decades ago, when there was a waiting list to get in. His son Josh looked up to those guys.

The 19-year-old said, "I remember growing up, hear the sirens go off, always want to go see the firemen roll out of there."

Now, Dannebrog has just 17 firefighters. All but three work out of town. And they can't seem to recruit the young guys.

Josh said, "Older they get, the more they move out, they move out, the less they get involved in the community."

Dannebrog is so short handed, precious minutes tick by before they can attack a fire like one that destroyed a home.

Terry said, "With only three guys, it takes all three to get hydrants hooked up, get water flowing, and then all the attacks were made from the outside, until we get more personnel on scene to make interior attack."

Most volunteer departments rely on what's called mutual aid, getting help from neighboring communities. In this case, that was Cairo, Boelus, St. Libory, St. Paul, Farwell, and Elba.

Terry said, "All the departments agree manpower is a necessity and we're all short of it."

At the start of the year, these departments expanded that agreement. If any get a fire call, it's now automatic they'll all be called.

In this case, the timing helped.

Terry said, "It was around 5:00, a lot of personnel were coming home for work, so we did get a fair amount, lot of equipment, but we primarily need personnel."

Dannebrog could use new equipment; 25 year old trucks aren't as reliable as they'd like. But it's young guys like josh they need most.

"We're all volunteers and if you don't have volunteers, who's going to do the job," Terry said.

The owner had been fixing up the place, but was not home Thursday night at the time of the fire. It appears to have started in the dry grass, and spread by the wind.