Crisis in Culver: fire department suffering from lack of volunteers, safety concerns arise
Imagine it's the middle of the night, and your smoke alarm goes off. You call the fire department, and only three firefighters show up. Other departments, traveling from other towns come to help, but the fire is ravaging your home.
That's a reality that many in Culver and Union Townships are forced to face. And it's just getting worse.
The fire department had just 18 volunteer firefighters as of Thursday morning, but hours later one firefighter turned in his resignation, after ten years of service with the department, leaving them with 17 on the force.
"We used to turn people away because we had too many, and now we're where we don't get any applications to join," says Chief Terry Wakefield.
He's been a volunteer firefighter with the Culver-Union Township Fire Department for more than 30 years. Now, he's dealing with a major issue.
"We've had three applications in three years," says Wakefield.
He barely has any volunteers. There are less than 20 firefighters to serve a population of under 4,000.
"Every time the alarm goes off, I wonder how many people are going to show up," adds Wakefield.
It has Wakefield worried.
"[I'm] scared for the community because the next thing I can do is call the next closest town, and the time from those people to get here...the next closest town is 15 minutes away," he explains.
Just three months into the year and already there has been more than $2 million in fire damage.
And when time matters, minutes mean everything.
"Two minutes, five minutes...total engulfed to there's no chance saving it," says Wakefield. "If someone was in it, there's no chance of saving lives at that point."
Culver Town Manager Jonathan Leist say's its becoming a much bigger problem and safety concern.
But other than continuing to work with the surrounding towns, they're not sure what they can afford to do.
"We'd love to have people on-call 24/7, but the price per officer in a community our size is difficult," says Leist.
Although the simple solution is to get more volunteers, it's just not that easy.
"It's a big commitment. It's not great pay, it's volunteer and you're getting a stipend," explains Leist. "There's a lot of training involved and you're putting your life at risk."
But to people like Chief Wakefield, it's all worth it.
"There are times when it's scary, but the rest of the time it makes you feel good when you help people," he says.