Editorial: Tuition assistance, other incentives would help with recruiting young volunteer firefighters

Fire companies in Carroll County would have a nice, shiny new tool to recruit and retain volunteers if a plan submitted by the Volunteer Emergency Services Association holds up to legal review and is passed by the Board of County Commissioners.

Last week, CCVESA President Don Fair came before the commissioners with a plan that, among other things, would offer active members of each of the county’s 14 fire companies tuition assistance. It would also offer some meal reimbursements as well as gift cards for top responders and those who take on leadership, administrative and operational roles in the fire house. The commissioners have already set aside $300,000 for recruitment and retention efforts, the plan just needs approval.


The plan is an effort to help keep young people interested in being volunteers at the fire companies at a time when, across the board, volunteerism is down. And we hope that the commissioners give it their approval, as we think it will go a long way in expanding the base of volunteers in Carroll and, hopefully, extend the amount of time until the county’s fire companies eventually move to a combination of paid and volunteer firefighters.

Carroll County is the only jurisdiction in Central Maryland that remains primarily served by volunteer fire response. Many of Carroll’s volunteers are professional, career firefighters elsewhere in the state. But it is becoming increasingly difficult and expensive for young people to meet the requirements necessary to even volunteer. It is no longer like the “good old days” when if you wanted to volunteer at the fire house, you essentially just showed up.

Even those who wholeheartedly want to volunteer may find it difficult to do so. For example, a young person out of high school may very well be interested in joining the fire service, but finds it difficult to balance attending college or trade school classes, along with a part-time job to help pay for it, while also spending time at the fire house. Tuition assistance from the fire company may allow them to spend fewer hours working to pay for college while giving more time to the company. Even if the scenario doesn’t exactly play out like that, tuition assistance in exchange for volunteer hours during winter and summer breaks when students return home from college seems worthwhile, and those experiences at the firehouse would hopefully have them come back once they graduate and start a career.

In some cases, the lure of tuition assistance might get someone who had never thought about volunteering with a fire company to give it a try.

Other incentives for top responders and those in leadership positions may not be a lot, but may serve as a small token of appreciation that has some volunteers spend a few extra hours at the fire house, ready to be called upon when needed.

Volunteer firefighters are an amazing part of the Carroll County community, and provide an invaluable service that may sometimes be taken for granted. As Carroll’s population, including its volunteer firefighters, continues to age, and more than half of residents leave the county during the day for work, it’s necessary to continue all avenues to recruit and retain volunteers.

These incentives may not be a lot, but if ultimately approved by the commissioners, they would be a step in the right direction to draw new volunteers to the fire service in Carroll.