New stipend incentive for volunteer firefighters

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(File photo by MARY MALONE) Sandpoint City Council approved a stipend of $15 per call for Sandpoint volunteer firefighters. Selkirk Fire, Rescue and EMS Chief Ron Stocking hopes it will garner more volunteers and more enthusiasm for the program.

SANDPOINT — City Council members approved a $15 per call stipend for volunteer firefighters last week in hopes it will encourage more response from volunteers from home, with less duty time at the station.

"We are hoping this will trigger more enthusiasm for the program," said Selkirk Fire, Rescue and EMS Chief Ron Stocking.

Volunteers were previously paid a stipend of $100 per month for 20 hours of combined "on-duty" time and training. The new program will require less duty time at the station and volunteers will get better supervision during training. The new stipend program also includes two paid training sessions per month at $15 each.

On average, Stocking said, volunteers respond to about 30 calls per year, not including training. He said the volunteer turnover rate is "incredible."

"It's one of the hardest programs for us to keep going and keep people trained," Stocking said. "Volunteerism in America is down all across the country, not just in Sandpoint, Idaho, so it's one of our constant struggles is keeping volunteers.

On the Selkirk Fire website, he said, there is an advertisement up constantly in an attempt to recruit more volunteers as well as some advertising in the Daily Bee. It is a struggle, Stocking said, but the department relies "heavily" on volunteers to supplement emergency response.

Stocking said another issue is the outfitting cost. For each volunteer who requires new safety gear, the cost to the department is approximately $2,000.

"We try to re-utilize some of the extra gear we have from people who quit, but if they come in different sizes — short, small, stocky — sometimes we have to buy the gear specifically for that volunteer," Stocking said. "So it is a struggle and it is a financial burden when a volunteer goes through the training, we buy them new turnouts, and they last six months."

Online volunteer registration: sandpointfire.com/volunteer.asp

Mary Malone can be reached by email at mmalone@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.

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