Grant offers incentives for volunteer firefighters
Purpose: Retention and recruitment of volunteers firefighters
Participants: Arbuckle/College City, Colusa City, Bear Valley/Indian Valley, Maxwell, Meridian, Princeton, Williams
Goal: 42-plus new volunteers
Grant life: Four years
Administration Cost: $42,000 a year
Local Administration Cost: $6,000 a year
Being a volunteer firefighter is not like it was a decade or more ago.
Training and fitness requirements are tougher, and Williams Fire Chief Jeff Gilbert said the pressures on individuals' time also seems greater.
That has left some fire districts in Colusa County struggling to attract new recruits, while others need to find a way to keep the volunteers they have active in the department.
"It has been more difficult over the years. There are a lot of outside distractions and stresses in the world, so yeah, I would say it has been more difficult over the last 10 years," Colusa Fire Chief Randy Dunn said about keeping a full volunteer roster.
That is particularly critical in Colusa County, where 90 percent of the firefighters are volunteers, a percentage that is higher than the national average of 70 percent.
That is why all but one of the fire districts in the county, plus the Meridian department in western Sutter County, are participating in a SAFER grant program that provides incentives for recruitment and retention of volunteers.
The Sacramento River Fire Protection District opted not to participate.
The program has been ongoing for about three months, with the focus of getting existing volunteers on the program rolls.
The paperwork is up to the individual districts, although a Williams fire employee is getting paid to organize that information and pass it along to the grant administrator, who in turn passes it along to the Department of Homeland Security.
The SAFER program came out of the 9/11 tragedy. Officials wanted to make sure communities had sufficient emergency personnel to deal with major incidents.
The funds, however, are provided through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The seven districts in the Colusa County program received a four-year grant for nearly $1 million that is designed to give volunteers incentives to join the departments and to stay on board.
Volunteers can earn as much as $100 a month if they meet certain participation requirements for the number of calls they respond to and the number of training sessions they attend.
Anyone who meets the thres old of 25 percent of the calls and 50 percent of the training can earn $50 a month. Those who respond to 30 percent of the calls and 75 percent of the training sessions can earn $100 a month.
The money can be applied to education, health benefits, child care or the most popular option, a 401K retirement program.
"Ninety to 95 percent have opted for the 401K," said Gilbert, who is the lead for the program.
The grant program is now beginning the next phase, reaching out to potential recruits. The Redden Group out of Boise, Idaho, is leading the effort.
The multi-media effort will include efforts in both English and Spanish to reflect the population makeup in the Colusa County communities.
Gilbert said recruiting has been particularly difficult in the smaller communities. There isn't the population to draw from, and with jobs being scarce in the county, many of the younger people are leaving the area.
For Gilbert, it is more about preparing for when his older volunteers are ready to retire. He said had 10 on the force that have at least 15 years of service.
They will eventually need to be replaced.
The program also automatically enrolls volunteers into a $50,000 insurance program for accidental death, and pays up to $500 a week to cover lost wages in the event of an on-call accident.
Anyone interested should contact their local fire department.