CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (WBOY) — Every day, firemen across West Virginia and across the country risk their lives to save others, and many do so on a volunteer basis. To put the impact of West Virginia’s fire departments in perspective, 12 News compiled stats for a handful of volunteer fire departments from 2022 and interviewed a family of firefighters who volunteer at Valley Volunteer Fire Department.

The Eakle Family

Zachary Eakle, his two brothers Kaleb and JB, and their father Tim Eakle, all volunteer at the Valley Volunteer Fire Department located in Pleasant Valley. Zac started his time in firefighting after he was laid off from his job 11 years ago, but his brother JB “roped him into” attending a meeting with the local volunteer fire department. Despite his initial reluctance, Zac is now a fire captain at the same station he visited 11 years ago.

(WBOY image)

“It’s a family thing,” Zac Eakle said in an interview with 12 News. “Three of us brothers are in it, we got our dad into it, and our brother is full-time coaching, but we’ve kind of made it a family-oriented thing now, a hobby to help the local community out.”

Since joining however, Zac’s brother JB says he has noticed a decrease in the number of people applying to become volunteer firefighters because the training and coursework required can be rigorous. In order to become a firefighter, participants must first choose a station they want to join, then take a certification course called “Firefighter 1,” a 120-hour course that proves you know how to handle yourself in situations you would encounter as a firefighter.

“People have to really re-route their lives in order to accommodate the 120 hours, you know? Kids, family, jobs. They offer [classes] during the week on certain evenings and they offer them during the weekends as well, but for a lot of people nowadays they just can’t make it happen.”

Despite these challenges, Zac said that VVFD has been able to maintain good levels of participation even with everyone working on a volunteer basis.

2022’s VFD Stat Breakdown

The meaning of some fire codes may not be obvious, so here are a few broad definitions of some of the terms you will see listed later on. Keep in mind that some departments see different terminology than others. We also included the stats for a paid fire department as a bonus:

  • First Due Fires – A first due fire is a fire that is in a department’s immediate service area and will typically be the first department to respond.
  • Vehicle accident with entrapment – This means that a person is trapped inside their vehicle after an accident, usually by a door, and can’t escape on their own.
  • Vehicle accident with entanglement – Similar to entrapment, the person is restrained by other parts of the car like a steering wheel or seatbelt.
  • Good intent calls – These are false alarms by people who call in signs of a fire that turn out to be coming from campfires, barbeques or legal burnings.
  • Service calls – These are community help calls like responding to a flooded basement, rescuing an animal or assisting police.
  • Mutual aid – These are calls for assistance from another fire department.

Philippi Volunteer Fire Dept.

  • 336 total calls
  • 2,366.5 volunteer hours worked
  • 43 First Due Fires (brush, vehicle, structure fires)
  • 19 vehicle accidents or rescues with entrapment
  • 161 Vehicle Accidents or Rescues without Entrapment
  • 59 Calls for Mutual Aid to other departments
  • 54 Service Calls including EMS Assists

Valley Volunteer Fire Dept.

  • 1,230 total calls
  • 361 Vehicle Accidents
  • 14 Vehicle accidents with Entrapment
  • 46 Structure Fires
  • 2 commercial structure fires
  • 13 Vehicle Fires
  • 35 power lines down
  • 84 non-commercial fire alarms

Shinnston Volunteer Fire Dept.

  • 890 total calls
  • 26 structure fires
  • 15 brush/trash fires
  • 50 vehicle accidents
  • 5 vehicle fires
  • 10 natural gas, propane, or carbon monoxide leaks
  • 450 medical calls (shortness of breath, cardiac arrest, etc.)
  • 225 false alarm dispatches
  • 15-20 active volunteers

Weston Volunteer Fire Dept.

  • 1351 total alarms
  • 286 vehicle accidents
  • 19 vehicle accidents with entrapment
  • 48 vehicle accidents with injury
  • 52 total fires
  • 25 building fires
  • around 20 active volunteers

Wallace Volunteer Fire Dept.

  • 196 total alarms
  • 20 structure fires
  • 4 vehicle fires
  • 6 vehicle accidents
  • 8 brush fires
  • 1 trash fire
  • 91 medical calls
  • 3 calls with EMS assistance
  • 2 downed power lines
  • 36 downed trees

Elkins Fire Department

  • 654 total incidents
  • 64 fires
  • 256 rescue and emergency service incidents
  • 79 hazardous condition incidents (no fire)
  • 122 good intent calls
  • 77 service calls
  • 48 false alarms & false calls
  • 2 severe weather & natural disaster incidents

Cheat Lake Volunteer Fire Dept.

  • 650 total calls
  • 14 structure fires
  • 14 vehicle fires
  • 60 vehicle accidents

“How can I become a volunteer firefighter?”

While becoming a firefighter can be physically demanding, the process of becoming one is fairly straightforward.

  • First, you want to find a department you would like to volunteer at, ideally one that is close by. It’s as easy as searching for “_____ county volunteer fire departments” in Google.
  • Ask the station how you can get involved. Attend meetings and get to know the other volunteers. If the crew thinks you are a good fit, they will vote on making you a probationary member.
  • Now that you are officially in a fire crew, you can begin taking the Firefighter 1 course which will test the skills necessary to be an effective firefighter, like setting up ground ladders and how to light up an emergency scene.
  • After you finish the course, you will be put on another six-month probationary period with your department to see how you do in the real world.
  • After that, barring any incidents or reprimands, you’ll be voted in as a full-time firefighter.

Local fire departments are always looking for new members, and even if you don’t want to be out there fighting fires, there are still plenty of ways to help out. All you have to do is reach out and ask.