Local fire departments enduring shortage of volunteer firefighters

Holmen Area Fire Department setting the bar high in hopes of getting recruits

Many fire departments around the country, including in the La Crosse area, are short of volunteer firefighters.

One local station is looking at quality over quantity in hopes of getting more recruits.

The Holmen Area Fire Department is among several stations in our area where a lot of their staff are volunteers.

Kyle Rogers knows what it’s like working with a short-handed fire staff.

“When I worked as a paramedic, we were lucky if we got volunteer firefighters,” Holmen Area Fire Department volunteer Kyle Rogers said.

But now he volunteers to keep people safe.

“It’s just another way for me to serve the community and be there for people who need me most,” Rogers said.

Rogers realizes every day isn’t easy.

“There’s always those hard calls,” Rogers said. “But the biggest thing is to keep everything at work, or at least at a volunteer level, keep everything at the station. Go home, you still have families at home that need you.”

It’s a trait Holmen Area Fire Department chief Buck Manley loves to see in his volunteers.

“Attitude,” Manley said. “Good, quality attitude and people with good work ethics.”

But he knows volunteers, including Rogers, are constantly moving.

“Since I took over, we’ve lost a total of 12, but we’ve hired eight,” Manley said. “So, we’re technically down four…We lost the bulk of them because the fire board and the fire department had a higher job requirement. And some people. just because of their time with work, just doesn’t have the time to do the training. And we understand that. We respect that.”

Picking the right people can make the difference.

“We’re being more selective on who we are recruiting,” Manley said. “And like any successful organization, if you require and you hire better quality personnel, then you’ll attract better quality personnel.”

As a former paramedic, becoming a volunteer firefighter was a big adjustment for Rogers, especially in familiar situations.

“Probably car accidents,” Rogers said. “When I was a paramedic, I didn’t get a chance to really see the fire side of things. It was more patient care, which is a big part of the fire department as well. But there’s a lot more to it than just patient care. It’s traffic control, cleaning up after the accident.”

When his name is called, he’s ready for the action.

“I just have a passion for helping people. It gives me a sense of purpose.”

The Holmen Area Fire Department has 17 staff members, 12 of which are paid on-call or volunteers.

Those who volunteer usually work between five to six hours per week.