DENMARK, Wis. (WFRV) — Chief Dave Bielinski has been a volunteer with the Denmark Fire Department for more than four decades, and now manages a volunteer staff of 49.
“We go on car accidents, fires, a lot of assistance calls,” he said of the job. “Basically these days you’re called in for anything.”
To be ready for anything, the volunteer firefighters with the department continuously train.
“You start out with a 60-hour minimum Firefighter 1 and 2 class, but then there’s your monthly training, which we currently train two nights a month, and then you’ve always got refresher classes and CPR,” Chief Bielinski said.
On top of their training, the volunteers also hold day jobs.
Chief Bielinski told Local 5 that among his volunteers have a variety of careers, including farmers, construction workers, and factory workers.
He said that contributes to the department’s turnover rate.
“They get promoted in their jobs and don’t have time anymore, or they move out of town, relocate, so you’re losing people,” Chief Bielinski said.
He added that volunteers do receive a small stipend for their work, “but it’s very minimal.”
Thursday, Senator Tammy Baldwin (D – Wisconsin) introduced the Volunteer First Responder Housing Act, along with three other lawmakers from both sides of the aisle.
The bipartisan bill would make volunteer first responders eligible for current federal housing programs, namely the Single Family Housing Guaranteed Loan Program and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Good Neighbor Next Door Sales Program.
“For all the training that’s required, and all of the calls you go on, any little bit would help,” Chief Bielinski said of the bill.
He added that Denmark’s firefighters volunteer with the department to lend a hand to their community, not to make money, but adding a housing incentive could help attract new volunteers.
“It might help cover their expenses,” he said.