Younger trend reshapes JVFD


JASPER — In recent years, as veteran members have aged and entered new chapters of their lives, the Jasper Volunteer Fire Department has undergone a transition.

What was once a predominately seasoned force has now become a young one.

Five firefighters have left the local unit in 2019 — a little more than the total that leave in any given year, Fire Chief Kenny Hochgesang said on Friday.

One had served on the team for 20 years. Two had been there for more than a decade. They have been replaced by six newbies, putting the Jasper outfit’s total staff at 35 members.

It’s a trend that, in recent years, has reshaped the very fabric of the department. Now, about 70% of the department has less than 10 years of experience with the local unit.

“We went from an older fire department to a much younger fire department,” Hochgesang said of how the outfit has morphed over the past five years.

He explained that some firefighters join the force and work 20 or more years before retiring. Others end their tenure at the 10-year mark, a milestone that comes with a special ring and entrance into the city’s pro-rated pension program.

A drawback to having a younger staff is the time commitments many young parents have to juggle. Activities and sports can pull department members away.

“When a new firefighter joins and they have children, and then when you see their children come down, it’s part of their life as being a parent,” Hochgesang said. “And then you see them grow up and they get into these activities and sports, and that takes away from their time here at the fire service because they’re with their children.”

He said the department encourages firefighters to make time with their families a top priority. Serving the local rescue outfit — firefighters can respond to fire calls as well as emergency medical services requests — comes next.

As of Friday, this year alone, the department had already responded to 373 calls, a number higher than all of 2018 combined.

“Our community’s growing, and as the community grows, our numbers increase,” Hochgesang said. “With everything. Medical, fire, alarms. We have more buildings, more businesses, more everything.”

The department is limited by city ordinance to keep its total number under 40 firefighters, and Hochgesang said anyone interested in joining and filling the remaining openings should contact the local station. He credited local employers for letting their employees leave their posts to service their community.

A lot of the firefighters become connected to the department through a friend, family member or coworker, Hochgesang said.

“From the city’s standpoint, the volunteer fire service is of great value to the city,” Hochgesang said. “If we had a full-time fire department with staff, it would increase the need for tax dollars to support that. And a volunteer service runs very economical compared to a full-time staff.”

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