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Local Fire Departments are Seeking New Volunteers

Editors Note; The vast majority of fire departments in the Upper Peninsula are volunteer based. There are some paid individuals in the region, closer to urban centers.

The number of house fires across the state has reached a record high. That’s only one problem, as every department in the UP is set up by volunteers. Men and women who risk their lives to save people and property when a fire strikes. It can be a time commitment, but Henry Schmidt from Hancock’s fire department says it is all worth it to be involved in the community.

On top of what everyone thinks of as the fire department’s duties of responding to fires, car accidents, and things like that. There’s a lot of volunteering to do in the community. We help out at the Christmas Walk downtown. We help at the fairgrounds during fair time, we volunteer to watch doors at hockey games. We do a lot of other volunteering in the community as well as a group. And I think that, joining a volunteer fire department is more than just being a firefighter. Though that is one of the biggest things. But additionally we do a lot of volunteering in the community as well. – Henry Schmidt, Volunteer Hancock Fire Dept.

Volunteer firemen go through extensive training. Those classes are not cheap. Fire departments often want volunteers to get a little bit of experience, and an understanding of what goes into the job before starting classes. Ben Galetto subs with Hancock now, and spends time working around the department to prep trucks and hoses, and assists where he can in an emergency.

Before you take classes, you to become a full member with all your certifications. You can be a sub. And, yeah, you kinda do grunt work. But it’s more watch and learn. But the guys are really helpful, like from the full time members, you learn a lot. A big part of getting this experience, is you’ve got these guys who’ve been on a long time. And they’ve seen it, so when it finally does happen. They’re able to show us what to do. And it kinda build up from there. – Ben Galetto, Sub Hancock Fire Dept.

Because fire departments in the Upper Peninsula are all volunteer based, recruiting and retention are consistent hurdles. Some of the department chiefs will tell you they aren’t getting any younger. That makes getting new, younger people involved a critical part of keeping local fire departments going. Schmidt said anyone who is interested in joining a fire department should stop by their local fire hall. And, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Every crew has members who are willing to help get a new volunteer started. 

Houghton County is home to 33 different fire departments. Serving over 36,000 residents and covering over 1,000 square miles. Houghton County ranks 12th in the state for fire departments per capita. And 30th for fire halls per sq. mile. Volunteers with each department respond to more incidents than just fires. As often times they are called to assist in traffic accidents, hazardous waste clean-up, medical emergencies and rescue calls.

Keweenaw County’s fire halls serve over 2,000 residents, and ranks first in the state for departments by population. But the county comes in 66th place for departments per square mile. Keweenaw County has only 9 departments, covering a total of 540 square miles.

Check to see who your fire department is for Houghton County and Keweenaw County.

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