WORCESTER COUNTY, Mass. - Many small fire departments in Central Massachusetts have been doing more with less the past few decades. The numbers of calls are going up, while interest in firefighting is going down.
"It is really hard to appropriately serve the town without enough personnel," Princeton Fire Chief John Bennett said.
The Princeton and Paxton fire departments rely heavily on on-call volunteers. They get hundreds of medical and fire calls a year and work to pull together enough personnel to safely respond.
"There's nothing mandating them coming to the call," said Paxton Fire Chief Michael Pingitore. "They are doing it voluntarily."
During the day, most volunteer firefighters aren't working in town, so departments are left unsure of who they can count on to show up.
"Complimenting the full-time staff, we have about seven to eight people we can truly rely on between the hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.," Chief Pingitore said.
The departments are struggling to find motivated individuals up for the task. One of the biggest issues is on-call volunteers still need to go through the same training as career firefighters.
"When we tell them the training requirements, they shy away from it because they are professionals in other places," Chief Pingitore said.
The departments say the job is also dangerous and the pay isn't very competitive.
"Our folks get $16.74 an hour to respond to a call," Chief Bennett said.
Both chiefs understand the commitment and sacrifice of on-call volunteers and said people don't do it for the money, its about community pride.
"Just neighbors helping neighbors," said Chief Pingitore. "These guys just like to get out in the community and see everybody and know that they are helping and I think that is the big motivating factor."
In Paxton, the department is always recruiting. They run social media campaigns every three to six months, but still only end up with a few people interested.