Testimony Highlights Volunteer Firefighter Shortage

Tuesday, the Interim Joint Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection heard testimony about a shortage of volunteers impacting some Kentucky cities.

Kentucky Firefighters Association Chairman Mike Kurtsinger reported that the number of volunteer firefighters went from 17,000 to 12,000 in a matter of years. Kurtsinger said 4,500 of the current 12,000 volunteers are paid firefighters with other departments who volunteer during their off-hours.

W.R. Castle Volunteer Fire Department Deputy Chief Brian Jeffiers noted that one of the issues impacting the number of volunteers is that many have full-time jobs outside of the community, creating a commute that makes it difficult to serve.

Prestonsburg Mayor Les Stapleton, who also serves on the Kentucky League of Cities Board of Directors, testified about the important role volunteers play in his city’s fire department. Stapleton explained that Prestonsburg employs 14 full-time and eight part-time firefighters. Twenty-one volunteer firefighters make up the rest of the department. “They help our small city keep moving, and that’s very important to us,” Stapleton said.

Stapleton also described the vital role volunteer firefighters played when he was a Kentucky state trooper. A trooper shortage often meant he would arrive on a scene alone. “We didn’t have help, but the volunteer firefighters were there,” he added.

Representatives Bobby McCool (R-Van Lear) and Ashley Tackett Laferty (D-Martin) told committee members that they intend to introduce legislation in the 2022 session that would create tax credit incentives for some volunteers. Tackett Laferty filed similar legislation as House Bill 61 in the 2021 session.