By Clint Parker
Alexander – Wait! Before you pass by this article thinking you’re not volunteering to fight fires, French Broad Fire Chief Matthew Shelton would like you to hear him out because there’s more to volunteering than fighting fires.
“To be a firefighter, to go in and do the interior firefighting is about 200 hours of training, but there’s more than just going in and putting a fire out,” explained Shelton about needing volunteers. “We need people that want to do office work, IT work. You name it and we’ll find them a job to do.” Swift-water rescue is also available at French Broad. “We just got 10 [members] certified for swift-water rescue.”
When Shelton was a junior firefighter (a youth age 16-18), the entire department with nearly 50 people members were all volunteers. The rural department located on Fletcher Martin Road in the Alexander community. Since then, more growth in development has raised the need for more volunteers.
“We have a guy, I think he’s 65, he started with us, but he didn’t want to do the interior firefighting stuff. He was interested in driving the trucks. So what we did with him is we trained him to drive a truck and pump the trucks,” he said. “We can tailor it to fit anybody.”
The “North Carolina Association of Fire Chiefs (NCAFC), in partnership with the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), is launching an urgent volunteer firefighter recruitment campaign across 12 North Carolinas counties, including Buncombe,” said a press release from NCAFC. “More than 70 percent of all North Carolina firefighters are volunteers, and that number is plummeting by approximately 11 percent annually, drastically impacting life safety and property emergencies.”
In Buncombe County, French Broad Fire & Rescue is one of those departments along with the West Buncombe Volunteer Fire Department.
Shelton says the station has eight full-time paid firefighters, six part-time paid members and the rest of his 24 members are volunteers. He’d like to have 10 to 15 more volunteers for the department.
“Local volunteers provide the bedrock of North Carolina’s firefighter workforce,” said Chief Tracy Mosley, program manager, NCAFC. “We understand that the safety of our communities relies on fully staffed and trained departments, and based on the success of past campaigns, we’re eager to launch this next iteration to transform our state’s volunteer fire service landscape.”
Shelton said there are several ways to help the department. One is for young people to join the junior firefighters’ program. Besides being 16-18, applicants have to maintain a “C” average in school. From 18 up, requirements are a high school diploma, pass a background check, drug screening, and a physical. All training needed to do the job you’re interested in is paid. “There’s no expense out of pocket for volunteers,” Shelton said.
Asked about those who might have concerns over COVID-19, Shelton said, “We have protocols in place and as long as they follow our protocols…” and they don’t have any medical training the risk of catching COVID is low.
Interested persons can go to www.VolunteerFireNC.org to find out more or stop by the station (at 572 Fletcher Martin Road) and pick up