One of the largest volunteer departments in CT, Shelton FD hunts for new recruits

SHELTON — The city’s fire department has not only survived but continued to thrive during the pandemic. But the need for additional recruits never ends for this all-volunteer staff.

Fire Chief Francis T. Jones III said the membership stands at 254, making Shelton one of the largest volunteer fire forces in the state. Each of the city’s fire houses include between 45 and 75 members.

Even with such a large contingent, Jones said the department is continually searching for new members.

“The key to successfully recruiting members is to be visible within your community, to provide professional training, and quality services,” Jones said. “It’s an active process, since there are so many competing interests, which are a lot less strenuous, time-consuming and dangerous.”

With the fire department, Jones said recruits will find a “family atmosphere, with a cross section of talented members, providing their shared experiences and talents for a common goal of life safety.”

The atmosphere, combined with the chance to gain knowledge and experience that can help with personal growth and possibly learning a new trade, makes volunteer fire service rewarding, Jones said.

“The department provides recruits and existing members with the skill sets needed for success in the future for the fire/rescue profession, or whatever the profession they choose,” he said.

Assistant Chief Mike Plavcan said the pandemic had not hurt membership, which has remained steady over the past few years.

“We continue to receive applications monthly, and average approximately 50 to 60 per year,” Plavcan said. “A considerable amount of time and effort is put into recruiting and retaining new members.”

Plavcan said 61 percent of Connecticut fire departments and 70 percent of fire departments across the United States are volunteer. Volunteer firefighters save taxpayers, nationwide, $37 billion per year which allows communities to invest in infrastructure or collect less in taxes.

The department was able to adapt quickly to the pandemic, according to Jones.

“We were ahead of the curve with (personal protective equipment) by working closely with our service partner, Echo Hose Ambulance,” he said. “And our level of training performed in respiratory protection and hazardous materials response provided us with a familiarity of how to operate safely.”

Jones said the department amended its standard operating procedures, assigned a department liaison to procure and distribute PPE, and to record incidents and conduct source tracing.

“We established a working group to make timely changes as the pandemic progressed to ensure continuous operations, and to safely protect our volunteers and their families,” Jones said. “This included adopting and amending procedures, the wearing of proper PPE, and conducting source tracing of any internal or external potential exposures, COVID testing, and vaccinations.”

In addition, Jones said the department was able to acquire supplemental grant funding to further enhance and re-supply PPE.

“We actually had a slight uptick in available staffing, since some of our members’ regular employment had shifted away from the office to virtual offices in their homes, thus providing them additional hours to volunteer,” he said.

Plavcan said once an individual is accepted into the department, they must complete comprehensive training, including attending the department recruit firefighter class followed by Firefighter I state certification.

“Once an individual has completed and passed both practical and written portions of the Firefighter I exam, they will become a certified firefighter,” Plavcan said. “The Shelton Fire Department is fortunate to have its own training division comprised of 20 certified fire instructors that conduct in-house training on a regular basis.”

The department has numerous positions for those looking to volunteer. Besides firefighter, people can serve as scene support, station help, fire police, fundraising and with the ladies’ auxiliary.

Anyone interested in volunteering can contact the Shelton Fire Department at 203-924-1555 x 1314, or visit sheltonfd.com, or via Facebook, or stop in any of the neighborhood firehouses.

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com