Gudger, Shedd head up state study committee to help volunteer fire departments

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A Johnson's Crossing volunteer firefighter on the scene of a house fire in White City in November 2018 (W.C. Mann for The Cullman Tribune)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Sen. Garlan Gudger, R-Cullman and Rep. Randall Shedd, R-Fairview have been respectively named chair and co-chair of a new state legislative committee to study the problems volunteer fire departments are having with recruiting and personnel retention across the state.

On Monday afternoon, Shedd posted to social media:

Today, Governor Ivey kicked off the first meeting of the new statewide Joint Legislative Study Committee on Volunteer Fire Departments and Community Medical Responders.

Emergency responders are dealing with tremendous challenges in these difficult times. One major challenge is lack of new volunteers.

Emergency responders are crucial, especially in rural Alabama.

Often it’s a matter of life and death and even when it is property it’s important to have volunteer fire departments.

Property insurance ratings are determined by the status of community fire departments; therefore the better the fire department the lower your property insurance premiums.

I’m pleased to serve as Co-chair of this new interim committee along with our committee chair Senator Garlan Gudger.

We will do our best to find solutions for emergency responders and present them to the full legislature in 2021.

We welcome your ideas on this issue.

Gudger told The Tribune, “We passed a resolution after having a meeting for some of our county volunteer fire departments in Hanceville last year, and we realized there’s a need for recruitment, for new funding, and really just a new way of marketing volunteer fire departments and first responders, because they’re losing new recruits and losing funding. We’re trying to do something statewide. If we do it, we need to do it across the board and make it statewide, instead of just doing for this region or for our districts. The governor met us yesterday. She was on board with us; she wants us to have four regional meetings throughout the state, and I’ll be leading that charge with Randall. We’re glad it came from right here in our own district in Cullman County.”

Shedd told The Tribune that the committee will hold large group meetings in each of the state’s four Forestry Commission fire districts, along with smaller meetings with local officials and departments at the county level statewide, as the committee prepares to present suggestions at the next legislative session.

Tuesday afternoon, Shedd told The Tribune, “Volunteer fire departments and community medical responders are crucial to small towns and rural Alabama, both in terms of life and death situations and the impact they have on property insurance premiums. As a state, we have to learn their challenges and find ways to sustain them. The Legislature is serious about it and we want to have legislation ready for the next session.”

Gudger said a major issue for volunteer firefighter/responder recruiting may be a lack of awareness of the need.

“People take fire suppression and first responding for granted, because they’ve always been there and people have volunteered their time and to learn to help other people,” he said. “As the world keeps us busy and social media keeps us going in different directions, it’s just harder for these new recruits to come on, and they don’t see how that really helps the community, and how it helps them and their family. But for some of these communities, especially rural Alabama, it’s life or death, you know. If you have a wreck on one of these back roads, they’re the first ones to get there. If you have a fire at your house, they’re usually the first ones to get there. It’s just something that we need to address.

Gudger continued, “Part of that is marketing and telling their stories about volunteer fire departments. By telling their stories of what real life response to some of these and how they help save lives and how they’ve helped people, those are the stories that need to get out there to realize this really makes a difference, and that we need strong volunteer fire departments and strong first responders throughout the state. It’s important that we have this group.”

Shedd said a special email account will be set up to take comments and suggestions from firefighters and responders. In the meantime, he put his own contact information in the social media post:

Randall Shedd, P. O. Box 345, Baileyton, AL 35019

Cellular and text 256-531-6641

Email randallshedd@icloud.com

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W.C. Mann

craig@cullmantribune.com