VALDOSTA, Ga. (WTXL) — According to the U.S. Fire Administration, nearly 50% of Georgia's fire departments are volunteer based, and only 18% are career based.
Valdosta Fire Department hires their firefighters, and while they're currently going through the hiring process for their next class of firefighters, they'll soon have applications open again to hire 12 more firefighters.
Nationally about 28,000 firefighter positions are projected for each year over the decade. That's according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
When it comes to finding new people to join the fire department, Valdosta Fire Chief, Brian Boutwell says it's not fancy advertisements that attract people, it's through other people.
"We do a survey on how did you find out about the job? was it the city web page? was it the news media? social media? or was it word of mouth and almost 90% of the time it was word of mouth," said Chief Boutwell.
That's the case for Corporal Eleana Rodriguez, who joined the department in November of 2021.
" I have a friend who's in the same department who talked about it anytime we hung out at the gym, and he told me if you want to try it, I think you'd be good at it, I think you should give it a shot," she said. "And I thank God everyday that I did."
Corporal Rodriguez already has multiple certifications including firefighter 1 and 2, hazardous materials technician, fire instructor , driver/operator, and fire officer 1 and 2. The Valdosta Exchange Club also named her firefighter of the year, making her the first woman to receive that award.
"I like showing up to somebody's doorstep and being able to help them with the smallest problems but the fighting fires side is exciting, I enjoy it every time we do it and hanging out and training with awesome people all day is great," said Cpl. Rodriguez.
Chief Boutwell says the job comes with great benefits, but also they focus on making sure their firefighters are prepared for the job, and professional while doing it. Also he says they create an environment people want to come to.
"This truly is a second family that you get grown attached to, they enjoy that piece of it. Next thing it's not really a job you're going to see your second family," said Chief Boutwell.
Chief Boutwell says they're waiting for a Safer Grant to come through to help pay the salary for those 12 firefighters for three years. According to the city of Valdosta website the annual minimum salary for a firefighter is around $37,500. He says if anyone is interested in becoming a firefighter they can go online and find their physical agility test video.