GAINES TOWNSHIP, Mich. — The Dutton Fire Department is in serious need of more firefighters as its call volume continues to increase.
The department is only 80% staff and has seen about a 10% increase in calls, with that number expected to grow.
Chief Paul Sheely has been with the department for over 25 years. He said times have since changed.
“It’s different than it was 25 years ago because it used to be when we run a fire 25 years ago, we ran almost all of them by ourselves and now it’s a total reliance on adjacent agencies to meet the need," Sheely said.
Sheely said the department is reliant on neighboring departments like Caledonia, Kentwood and Cuttlerville.
“One of the other realities is that there are three of us that are my age. We’re to the upper end of the age scale to be doing this kind of work," Sheely said. “It’s just getting harder and harder to find people that want to do this kind of work.”
On Wednesday night, the department was stretched thin as multiple calls came in.
“We were on a small structure fire in Kentwood last night. At the same time, we had three calls at the same time last evening. Cuttlerville ran one of those calls," Sheely said. “It takes a lot of people, but it takes also a structure to kind of sustain that.”
Sheely said departments across the country are experiencing a staffing shortage. He credits the problem to fewer people living in rural areas and people moving more often and not feeling tied to a community.
“I think there’s really less of a spirit of volunteerism," Sheely said. "I think that’s another reality the whole country’s facing. We’re just a little microcosm of that.”
Sheely said employers of their part-time workers aren't always cooperative.
“Employers are not as likely to let their employees go as when they used to maybe be small businesses that were ingrained in the community," Sheely said. "We had rural farm people that were on these departments.”
Department leaders expect to see a significant increase in calls to come from the new Amazon facility near the station.
Applications are available at the Dutton Fire Department.