Volunteer fire departments facing shortage, Catoosa chief calls issue a nationwide problem

CATOOSA, Okla. -- A Green Country fire chief says a nationwide problem is impacting area volunteer fire departments.

"I'm a nervous wreck, all the time," Catoosa Fire Chief Denus Benton said.

Benton tells 2NEWS that he has six full-time and 11 volunteer firefighters on staff. The maximum number of volunteers allowed by state law, however, is 25.

"There are multiple times that we're down to two people and three people," he said.

Benton believes that the shortage, in his town, is due to several factors: one, being the time commitment. 

Volunteer firefighters are required to spend 70 percent of their available time on shift.

The chief also believes requirements for the job are a deterrent.

"I think a lot of the shortage is due to the requirements and the pressure that we have to put upon them to maintain their certifications," he said.

In order to become a volunteer firefighter, men and women must undergo 200 hours of training, within six months. They must also attend 18 hours of training, every month that follows.

Benton tells 2NEWS that his top concern is providing safety for the people of Catoosa. However, he also wishes he had the resources to help neighboring communities impacted by recent grass fires.

"We want to be able to go out somewhere and help somebody else," he said. "At the same time, our biggest obligation is to make sure we're protecting our own citizens."

Benton is hopeful more volunteers will come on board, but he recognizes the job is not for everyone.

"It's not everybody's cup of tea, to come here and help," he said. "It takes a real dedicated person."

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer firefighter in Catoosa, call (918) 438-2952 or (918) 266-1747.

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