BURLINGTON, January 18 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today announced a $100,000 grant to recruit, train and retain firefighters and emergency medical services personnel throughout Vermont.
“Vermont is deeply indebted to our volunteer first-responder community, and we’ve got to do everything we can to maintain their ranks,” Sanders said in announcing the funding for the Vermont Fire Academy to support vocational training and to increase recruitment and retention efforts.
The senator was flanked at a press conference in his Senate office here by Kristy Oxholm President of the Vermont State Firefighters Association; Jim Finger, president of the American Ambulance Association; Gary Dillon of the Waterbury Volunteer Fire Department; Chief Charles Cole of the Essex Volunteer Fire Department; Dean Gilmore of the New Haven Volunteer Fire Department; Chief Tom Hooker of the Pittsford Volunteer Fire Department; and Chief Jim Litevich of the Vermont Fire Academy.
Sanders said the economic downturn and other factors have strained the ranks of volunteer firefighters and other emergency personnel.
A report by the U.S. Fire Administration described volunteer emergency services as a “tradition in danger of weakening and possibly even dying out.” The report noted a drop of more than 97,000 volunteers since 1984. A survey of the National Fire Protection Association showed that at least two-thirds of the nation’s fire departments are understaffed. The situation was worse in rural communities.
“If we do not have the kind of numbers we need to maintain strong volunteer departments, the day could come when someone in Vermont dials 911 to report a fire, an accident or a stroke and no one answers the call,” Sanders said. “In other words, we’ve got to do everything we can to maintain their ranks.”
The $100,000 grant for Vermont will address those needs in various ways, including improved outreach to high school students and continuation of a successful summer program for young people.