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'Departments are strapped, we need help:' State faces shortage of volunteer firefighters

The high fire danger and smoky air are combining for a dangerous shortage of volunteer firefighters statewide. (Photo: KOMO News)

PUYALLUP, Wash. - The high fire danger and smoky air are combining for a dangerous shortage of volunteer firefighters.

The emergencies are out numbering the available crews and volunteer departments are being pushed to the limit.

Crews with Riverside Fire in Puyallup said their numbers are dangerously low.

"To be honest, volunteer departments are strapped and we need the help," said volunteer fire fighter Caleb Carr.

There should be 45-50 volunteers to handle the new increase in calls, but they only have 28.

The challenge right now is all of these hot and dry days have combined for a high fire danger, plus all of the smoke and haze have created health concerns.

"It's pretty tough on the elderly community," said battalion chief Daniel Hugo of Riverside Fire District. "It's tough on us because we're running more respiratory emergencies and we have less staffing to run the fires that may pop up as well."

Increased calls to every fire department in the state fight brush fires in are causing a real concern.

"This is universally across the entire state," said Carr. "Not only that, but we have a couple of firefighters right now who are being dispatched all over the country to fight wildfires."

It has caused the urgent call for volunteers at most every volunteer department in the state.

A physical test is required and a commitment of four 12-hour shifts a month.

"It's been one heck of a wild ride," said Steven Roberts who has been a volunteer for more than a decade to go with his day job in the auto industry. "I've leaned a lot. I've met some fantastic people and gotten some incredible life experiences out of it. I wouldn't trade it for the world."

Carr is a Microsoft international team member by day.

" I talk with my colleagues at Redmond all the time at Microsoft, 'come down, be a volunteer fire fighter.' You pull 24 hours, you go home and you do something good for the community,' " he said.

Many of the fire departments said their volunteer training academies are coming up in eight weeks.

Click here for more information on becoming a volunteer firefighter.

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