Number of volunteer firefighters getting critically low in Portage

Department has 6 full-time firefighters, 21 on-call volunteers
Number of volunteer firefighters getting critically low in Portage

For 143 years the Portage Fire Department has been protecting residents over the 172 square miles it covered, which includes approximately 15,000 residents. In recent years the number of paid on-call volunteer firefighters in Portage has been declining, to the point where officials are concerned it is reaching a critical point.

The department has six full-time firefighters and 21 paid on-call volunteers. That is down from the 34 paid on-call volunteers that it prefers to have to cover calls.

“In the last couple years it has just dropped, and we haven’t seemed to get the interest of people wanting to do this. So it has been an issue and it keeps dropping and we’re not the only department suffering from this,” said Clayton Simonson, fire chief of the Portage Fire Department.

To cover fire calls the department requires 17 firefighters to respond, and there have been times when that number was not available. In those instances the department had to request mutual aid from nearby fire departments, which can slow down response times.

“Time is of the essence. A fire grows four times its size every minute. So the quicker you can get there, the quicker you can put it out, the less damage you have. When we have to call departments from 10 miles away, that is a concern, a big concern,” Simonson said.

The drop in volunteer firefighters stands in stark contrast to the response in the days following the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, which claimed the lives of 343 New York City firefighters.

“There was a lot of interest. A lot of interest came and we got quite a few guys and everybody wanted to help and assist, and we just don’t see that as much anymore,” Simonson said.

He is hoping that individuals in the community will remember the need to serve the community is the same now as it was in 187,1 when the fire department was formed, and on Sept. 11, 2001, when this nation was attacked. He said the mission for the fire department is the same today as it always has been.

“Our mission is exactly the same, to protect life and property,” Simonson said.
For more information about becoming a paid on-call volunteer firefighter in Portage, call 608-742-2172 or visit the department’s website.