Columbia County fire working to recruit new firefighters through schools

Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020
News 12 at 6 O’Clock/NBC at 7

(Source: WRDW)

AUGUSTA, GA (WRDW/WAGT) – Teachers, law enforcement officers, and firefighters are some of the most important jobs across the country, yet they’re the hardest to fill.

Columbia County Fire Rescue is working with the school system to try and fill those positions here.

These classes have just started. Students can take classes where they go with fire rescue to fires, help save people, and all while earning their certification.

“Not everybody wants to be a firefighter these days,” Battalion Chief Ray Blessing said.

It’s a job like no other. One where you risk it all to help others.

“I was diagnosed with prostate cancer in April of 2012,” Blessing said. “Certainly exposure to chemicals plays a big role.”

Blessing knows the dangers firefighters face. But not even cancer stopped him from his 30 years and counting of service.

"There's probably no greater sense of satisfaction than public service,” Blessing said. "When you have the opportunity to help someone, it's addicting."

But the dangers lead to shortages. Columbia County fire rescue is having to replace about 30 people a year out of their 180-person department. They're paying overtime almost every shift to keep things running.

"We always need more people,” Deputy Fire Chief Jimmy Paschal said. “The more we have on a fire scene, the better we can operate and be safe doing our job."

Paschal says it takes about 4 months to train a firefighter. It's why they teamed up with the school system so high school students can graduate certified and ready to start. They can also work while going to college all while getting reimbursed for tuition.

"They will actually be going in fires, learning how to rescue victims, putting out fires, doing everything that a firefighter does,” Paschal said.

Because a bigger team is better for us all.

Columbia County isn't the only one facing shortages. Augusta Fire had 42 recruits in 2019 and they say they're constantly hiring new firefighters. Both departments tell me there's a huge need for female firefighters.

Fire rescue isn't the only public service job seeing a shortage either. The Richmond County Sheriff's Office has 77 openings. Columbia County Sheriff's Office has 39 openings.

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