Volunteer Fire Companies Turning to Paid Employees for Help

As a firefighter for a volunteer fire company, Paul Koons does everything -- from changing the toilet paper to driving the truck, conducting fire drills at the old folks' home to handling burgeoning administrative duties in an age of dwindling...

''In a lot of cases fire chiefs find themselves going to second and third alarms,'' Mann said. ''It's not unusual to see 10 or 12 vehicles called to a scene and just two being used because the point (of calling in the extra companies) was just to get enough firefighters there.''

Cash said his department uses the Fire Corps model, which grew out of the nation's Homeland Security efforts: finding locals to help out without fighting fires. A professional grant writer from Cherryville now volunteers to do the same thing for the department.

Carriger's department has an $800,000 annual budget, funded by a small property tax levy. That amount is dwarfed by the economic value of the volunteers, yet Carriger and others find themselves explaining to the public why a volunteer fire company needs paid employees.

''It's just driven by necessity. It's a matter of informing the public that it's not all going to be free anymore,'' Carriger said.

Koons said some longtime volunteers have also questioned why he is being paid.

''They'll say, 'But when my dad was here, it wasn't an issue.' Well, back when your dad was here everybody worked within three blocks of the firehouse, too,'' Koons said.