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Volunteer firefighters in the Shoals are trying to recruit more members because of declining numbers. The National Fire Protection Association says the number of volunteer firefighters is down about 12% over the last three decades across the country.
"Underwood has been pretty fortunate over the years but we are starting to see a decline," said Assistant Fire Chief at the Underwood-Petersville Volunteer Fire Department, Tony Eckl.
There are 14 volunteer fire departments with about 350 volunteer firefighters in Lauderdale County. That means thousands of people rely on these first reponders to show up in a moments notice. Eckl said his department responds to more than 500 calls a year.
"That's a call and a half or so a day. So getting new people in is important to us. The average volunteer firefighter these days has a career span of five years," said Eckl.
Hannah-Catherine Abbernathy is one of the volunteer fire departments newest recruits and says she gets asked why she does something for free.
"A lot of people question why would you do something you do get paid for? But it's something I can do to give back to my community," said Abbernathy.
Abbernathy is also a full time nursing student and put in a lot of training hours to be a volunteer firefighter. Even though she does it for free, being a volunteer is helping her future.
"They are giving me the opportunity to start EMT school in January. My goal one day is to be a flight nurse so i'll need my EMT license. It's cool to get that scholarship from here and not have to worry about it," said Abbernathy.
Eckl hopes others will be interested in signing up to be a part of their volunteer firefighter family.
"If you didn't wanna go inside the fire there's still dozens of things that need to be done on a fire. There's other routine things that need to be done around the department like maintaining equipment and checking the trucks," said Eckl.
The volunteer fire department will do three informal meetings throughout December for those interested in seeing what it takes to be a volunteer firefighter. Those meetings will be held at the Underwood-Petersville Volunteer Fire Department located at 4661 Cloverdale Road in Florence.
The meetings will happen Sunday December 16th at 3pm, Thursday December 20th at 6:30 pm, and Saturday December 29th at 11 am.
For more information on the Underwood-Petersville Volunteer Fire Department or any volunteer fire department in Lauderdale County you can click here.
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