A scholarship proposal would help with recruitment and retention
FRANKLIN COUNTY, NC – On a Monday morning, the fire hall is a hive of activity.
Firefighter Gavin Moore arrives a few minutes before the start of his 24 hour shift to 7 a.m. , ranging from air reservoirs and defibrillators to chainsaws and knives. Once done, it’s time to hit the pounds.
Moore hadn’t planned on becoming a full-time firefighter, but the more interested he was, the more he realized he liked it. He joined the Youngsville Fire Department and is now considering making a career out of it. As part of this, he is studying for a degree in fire protection at Nash Community College.
“A lot of places are going in degrees,” he said. “If I was injured or something, I would always have a back-up plan. And emergency management and firefighters have a lot in common.
To pay for his studies, he saves as much as possible on his salary. A bill from the state legislature would provide forgivable loans of up to $ 3,152 per year to people like Moore who are studying for an associate’s degree in fire protection. Up to 100 students could receive the loan each year. To remain eligible for loan cancellation, students would then have to work for a fire department for at least four of the next five years, either as a volunteer or as a paid firefighter.
Tim Bradley, executive director of the NC State Firefighters Association, says many firefighters quit their jobs after a few years, resulting in the need to constantly recruit new ones. Additionally, the lack of volunteers is forcing rural departments with limited budgets to hire full-time paid firefighters, an expensive option.
The Youngsville Fire Department is no exception. Battalion Commander AC Rich says he has a total of 10 full-time firefighters at his disposal, including himself and Moore. It also has 19 part-time firefighters and 37 volunteers.
On paper, that should be more than enough for him to have at least three firefighters on duty at all times in each of his three fire stations. But Rich says volunteers and part-time workers aren’t always available due to other work commitments that could put them out of reach when a call comes in.
Rich says the forgivable loan proposal would encourage firefighters to stay in the profession for longer periods. This would mean a larger pool to draw from when it comes time to identify staff.
“Any kind of incentive that can be created to help volunteers is a home run,” he says. “It will help recruit volunteers and also serve as a retention tool because it gives them something ongoing that they can use and access. “
Moore says having a forgivable loan to help cover her education would take the strain on her finances. He says some firefighters are trying to pay for a degree while trying to support families, so the proposal would be especially helpful for them.
The measure has not yet been the subject of a committee hearing.