Can you afford to live without a live-in?

Many progressive volunteer fire departments have embraced the live-in concept for years -- and with great success.

As many volunteer fire departments struggle to maintain adequate staffing, there’s still a long-standing solution available that is often overlooked.

Like many of the challenges we face, the solution to inadequate staffing may require more imagination and sheer will than it takes time or money to overcome them.

For years, progressive volunteer fire departments have been hosting bunk-in programs which are typically designed for students attending local colleges near the firehouse. From Moyers Corners in Syracuse NY to Centerport on Long Island, and from Hyattsville in Prince Georges County MD to all up and down the eastern seaboard; departments are smartly taking advantage of these “firefighters-in-residence.”

Although I’d like to explore and expound on the bunk-in program idea more later, it was this link to from Matt at SAFE Firefighter that prompted me to share these thoughts. Thanks Matt!

As stated on “The short answer is that a fire department live-in is an individual that receives room & board from a fire department in exchange for them staffing the apparatus. The concept goes much deeper than that though, and the benefits to both the fire fighter and the fire department are immeasurable.”

In some, but not all of the cases, the students are enrolled in a fire protection technology or fire science degree program at the local community college. But do they need to be?

Do we really care what course of study they’re studying if they gain valuable knowledge and an education that is going to make them more employable in your community? As I’ve said about the FireCorps program, from accounting to auto mechanics and everything in between, we and they will see a return on our investment when they achieve a higher education.

Do they even need to be going to college or do you need a college nearby for the program to be effective? I did some work for a volunteer fire department in West Virginia that had an entire family living in the firehouse, with both spouses responding as appropriate. Sound crazy? Got a better solution?

The definition gives above leaves a lot to the imagination of both parties to make it work. And that’s a good thing, because the program needs to be flexible enough to meet the needs of everyone involved but structured enough to ensure that expectations are clear on both sides of the equation.

So as you struggle to maintain a sufficient number of volunteers, you need to ask yourself: “Can we afford to live without live-ins?” Check out the sites I linked to in this article and talk to some folks who have tried it. Think about whether or not it would work for your fire department. Imagine the possibilities. Let the FireRECRUITER know your thoughts.

Does your FD already have a live-in program? We’d like to hear about the pros and cons of it, so please leave a comment and share your experiences with those who might be considering this not-new-but-still-innovative approach to maintaining adequate staffing in the volunteer fire service. Ultimately, it may not be the solution for your FD — but it may be a solution for your department to consider.

Stay safe. Train often.