Volunteering for Juneau's fire department has become more fashionable than the chief expected when he put out a recruitment call early this month.
"We were turning people away because we didn't have enough room," Capital City Fire and Rescue Chief Eric Mohrmann said. There will be future opportunities, but with 34 recent applicants already training, the number of active volunteers - currently at 38 - should nearly double by Christmas.
"It was overwhelming," Mohrmann said, noting that there are only so many people the department can train.
He said a few factors contributed to the drive's success.
Media coverage was one - letting people know the need of the department, which operates with both volunteer and full-time paid staff.
Adjusting the training requirements was another factor, Mohrmann said. Volunteers can now begin support work with the department with 80 hours of training.
That is about half of what they will need before they can go into hazardous situations at a fire. "They can still provide very valuable services."
It used to be that volunteers faced six months of training for a firefighter or emergency medical services technician - something that is difficult to commit to. "There was a very high dropout rate."
The second round of training will probably be offered in the spring, Mohrmann said.
Capital City also is training people exclusively on the emergency medical side to give them the basics to drive ambulances and perform life-saving measures for the department before they continue their training.
Mohrmann said a few of the volunteers aren't interested in fighting fires but only want to volunteer for emergency medical services, an option that is now being offered.
He also noted that a couple of recent large incidents, such as the Aug. 15 fire at Front and Seward streets downtown, have made the department and its mission more visible.
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