Fighting fire with UAS scholarships

Capital City Fire and Rescue is offering 12 scholarships as part of a new program

Posted: Friday, June 12, 2009

Capital City Fire and Rescue has a new tool for fighting fires: Scholarships.

Keeping volunteer firefighters is a nationwide problem, said Beth Weldon, division chief of volunteers for Capital City Fire and Rescue. A new scholarship program will help the department keep volunteers.

"We don't keep them," said Weldon, who is coordinating the program. "Most of them stick around for three years and then move on, for various reasons."

The volunteer retention rate impacts response times, equipment maintenance and homeowner's insurance rates. It also impacts personnel quality.

"We have a lot of new firefighters and not a lot of seasoned firefighters," Weldon said.

In January, the department received $366,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency which they're using to set up the new scholarship program.

They will give out 12 scholarships for the fall 2009 semester at University of Alaska Southeast. It will pay for 16 credits a semester at UAS in any degree program as well as $250 for student fees. It's renewable for up to four years and the live-in program provides the students with housing as well.

The scholarship is mainly a recruiting device but Weldon hopes it keeps volunteers in other ways.

"One of the reasons people move on is they move out of Juneau. ... By living in the station they'll be pretty ingrained into the system. ... The department becomes like family to a lot of people. ... If we can get them in the group and liking the group, then we can have them stay in the group."

Weldon says the perfect candidate will be able to work well with people, like hands-on activities, be willing to learn, can respond well in a bad situation and can think on their feet.

Weldon has gotten a good response to the scholarship announcement, with 20 to 30 people saying they're going to apply and more than 100 calling to inquire. Weldon doesn't want to discourage anyone, though.

"The more the merrier," she said.

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