Around Acadiana

Nov 1, 2013 11:45 AM by Akeam Ashford/ Tina Macias

Volunteers make up 80% of Acadiana's firefighters

Every single day, there are thousands of men and women across the state who are voluntarily serving in their communities.

They're on call 24-hours a day, with no pay, and often no recognition. They're what many call hometown heroes; they are volunteer firefighters.

According to the State Fire Marshal's office, there are 20,506 recognized firefighters in the state. Of those, more than 15,000 (73%) are volunteer firefighters.

In Acadiana, there are 3,402 firefighters. Of those, 2,731, or 80% are volunteers.

St. Martin Parish has the highest percentage of volunteer firefighters by parish; 100% of all firefighters at their 12 fire stations are serving as volunteers.

For an opportunity to understand how volunteer firefighters juggle their personal lives with volunteering, we spent some time with a volunteer firefighter who says it's tough trying to balance both.

During the day, Perry Jones works as a safety coordinator in the oil & gas industry. Now that he has a family to provide for, it's becoming more difficult to find emergency calls that fit his schedule.

"There's times in the morning that we've gotten dispatched and then you're like I got to be at work, I can't make it. In the back of your mind you're thinking what if that's somebody burning in a house fire right now? That's the struggle I have with it, but then I also know I have to feed my family," Jones says.

Volunteering is a sacrifice that affects his whole family, and before deciding whether he should take a call, he thinks about his wife and daughter first.

Volunteer firefighters are required by state law to take a minimum of 40-hours of hands-on or in-classroom training a year. This is the same requirement for paid firefighters.

The amount of training hours depends on their position. Some need upwards of 150-hours a year.

Brian Castille is the St. Martin Parish Fire District Coordinator; he works for parish government and oversees each department.

Castille is paid, as are 10 part-time firefighters the parish borrows from other parishes' paid departments. The other 286 firefighters are all volunteer.

"It's rough. it's a full time job. Whether you're paid to do this job or not, or volunteer. When you volunteer it's a full
time position, you're just not getting a check for it," says Castille.

Castille says finding people who have time to volunteer has become a growing issue for departments across the state.

Tonight at 6:00, we'll have a second report on volunteer firefighters. We're told it's getting harder to find those who want to help. Tonight we'll tell you about the new push on recruiting.

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