By Chris Yow
ARGO — Volunteer fire departments have long serviced small communities, sometimes as the main source of firefighters. The City of Argo, while having some firefighters on paid staff, relies heavily on volunteers. Argo Fire Chief Mike Platt said his staff is one-third the size it needs to be.
“Normally, we have about 21 volunteers,” Platt said. “Right now, we have seven.”
The problem, however, isn’t just in Argo, it is nation-wide. A report from 2014 said the number of volunteers has dropped 11 percent since the mid-1980s, while the number of career firefighters has grown more than 50 percent. The problem for Argo is the city can only afford a few paid staff.
“This is predominantly a volunteer fire department. We have some paid staff to supplement to guarantee calls don’t go unanswered. During the day they have 2-4 people,” Platt said. “At night, we only have two people. Theoretically, that’s when volunteers are more readily available. Most of them have a day job, so during the daytime, volunteers virtually don’t exist.”
To combat the issue, Argo’s department must rely on mutual aid agreements with nearby cities such as Springville, Trussville and volunteer department Margaret.
“A fire takes anywhere from six to ten people,” Platt said. “We have an automatic mutual aid agreement with Springville, so they’re coming to help us, but there is a big delay. Even they rely on volunteers as well.”
According to Platt, his department sometimes uses all three neighboring departments to help with a call. The department handles anywhere from 35 to 65 calls per month.
“Some days you don’t get any calls, and other days you’re covered up with five or six,” he said. “If there was a rhyme or reason you could figure out how the calls come in, you could stack the day, but it doesn’t work that way.”
Even when there aren’t any calls, the department is busy.
“We’re always busy doing something. We’re training or doing things with the public. Something is always going on,” Platt said.
According to the same report in 2014, roughly half of the time spent on duty by volunteers is fundraising. The reason for that is the cost of equipment and training. Argo’s department is working on a grant to help fit and train new volunteers, but it hasn’t gotten it yet.
The department is continuing its efforts to recruit by getting the word out as broad as possible.
“We don’t care if you don’t live in Argo,” Platt said. “If you want to volunteer, we will find the person to contact. Everybody is hurting for them.”
Platt added that volunteers aren’t cookie cutter, and everyone is useful.
“Everybody brings something to the table,” Platt said. “Some people are more detail-oriented and others are more physical. With firefighting and EMS, every call is different. It takes a team of different types of people and training to make things mesh together. It can be male, female, anyone.”
For more information on how to volunteer, please contact the Argo City Hall at (205)352-2120 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Volunteers can also come by Station No. 1 at 100 Blackjack Road, Trussville 35173.