Madison County sees increased need for volunteer firefighters amid fast growing population

WAFF's Megan Plotka reporting
Published: Jul. 20, 2023 at 11:18 AM CDT

MADISON Co., Ala. (WAFF) - Madison County residents have a compounding problem of a growing population paired with a dwindling number of volunteer firefighters. Construction for new houses, apartments and subdivisions is evident from Hazel Green to Owens Cross Roads. Madison County is the third fastest-growing county in Alabama.

The growth is evident everywhere, especially in Meridianville. The once rural area is slowly looking more and more suburban, but without the resources to support the growth.

The Chief of the Meridianville Volunteer Fire Department, Brandon Burgess says the population in his area has doubled in the last five years, meanwhile, his team numbers are dwindling. He says his community members don’t want to volunteer as much as they used to even as their responsibilities are growing.

Chief Burgess says the call volume is going up, with more homes there are more fires. He says the surrounding volunteer fire departments have to join forces to put out active fires.

“We’re going four and five departments deep, to get personnel on real working fires,” said Chief Burgess. “It seems the ‘do more with less’ mentality is keeping course. We’re still getting the jobs accomplished. I don’t know how long the volunteer departments can sustain that.”

On top of putting out actual fires, they have to balance running a department, by completing administrative and financial tasks.

Plus, they have to help with the logistics of a growing area. The volunteer fire department has to check the increased amount of fire hydrants in the new neighborhoods and help with utilities.

WAFF's Megan Plotka reporting

“Just a couple of days ago we sat on the scene for three hours while the Huntsville Utilities crews were trying to locate a gas line that had ruptured by growth,” said Chief Burgess. “Boring, adding lines ruptured a gas line that sent them (volunteer firefighters) from what they were doing in their personal lives to sitting on a scene for three hours, waiting to mitigate a potential emergency.”

Chief Burgess says he hopes his department could see increased funding and more volunteer firefighters.

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