Fire training sheds light on nationwide volunteer firefighter shortage

By Japhanie Gray - Reporter, Jennifer Galvan - Photojournalist

NEW BRAUNFELS, Texas - The 2019 Mario Lopez Memorial Spring Fire School was held for career and volunteer firefighters across multiple counties as a way to raise awareness about the need for more volunteer firefighters while providing tactical training.

Those counties included Comal, Bexar and Guadalupe Counties.

“We are teaching some very aggressive and progressive types of fire tactics for search and rescue to save victims that wouldn’t normally be a viable save in those conditions,” said Erik Johnson, president of the board of governors of the Guadalupe County Firefighters Association. “Say if you got a mother that comes out screaming for her child and you know that room of where that child was last at. This is training to get these guys into the room to save that victim.”

Johnson said nationwide, 70% of fire departments are volunteer-based.

“Across the board, we are seeing a shortage nationally of volunteer firefighters and (emergency medical technicians),” Johnson said. “Here locally, we are seeing that same trend, and though it is not better or worse for us, we could always use more help.”

He said a part of the reason deals with the effects of everyday life.

“It is a combination of work with two household incomes and time constraints,” Johnson said. “To be a firefighter takes a lot of training, as well, so being able to have time to do that.”

He added that it takes a unique kind of individual to be a firefighter.

“It takes a little bit of crazy, a little bit of guts and a lot of heart,” Johnson said. “Physically, it wears you out having about 60-70 pounds of extra gear on top of you, and then your environment is anywhere from 300 to 1,000 degrees, trying to save a life.”

In any case, Johnson said it is all worth it in the end.

“We do it for the community,” Johnson said. “We do it to save lives. We do it for them, and that is the whole reason we are out here today is to hone our skills and be the best that we could possibly be to provide the best possible service to our respective communities to save lives.”

The training was also held as a way to kick off a campaign to raise funds for the Guadalupe County fire training facility where the event was held.

“The Guadalupe County facility is the only facility from South Austin to San Antonio where firefighters can do this type of training,” Johnson said. “This is important because we need up-to-date training structures and props to be the best prepared we can be to face the hazards in today’s world that we encounter when someone dials 911 for help. Unfortunately, upgrades and updates cost money. We need area residents' and businesses' financial support to help bring our dreams of a top tier training facility to life.”

He added the upgrades are important because they would help keep firefighters better trained and prepared in any hazard or emergency type of situation.

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