Some volunteer fire departments are woefully understaffed

(Photo: Joe Mahoney/I-News)

Photo: Volunteer Firefighter, Pride is our payA shortage of volunteer fire fighters is leaving many Colorado fire districts understaffed.

And that can slow down response time, even in parts of the state most threatened by wildfires.

That’s one finding in a report out Tuesday from Rocky Mountain PBS and I-News.

Investigative reporters looked at fire agency records, and they found almost 200 all-volunteer fire departments in the state serve more than 450,000 residents.

I-News reporter Burt Hubbard says he was surprised by how small some departments are, compared to the area they cover.

"You have a lot of districts in which they have less than 30 volunteers and that’s the entire fire department," Hubbard said. "And unlike you know a metro area, these guys are having to cover huge territories."

The Colorado State Fire Chiefs' Association estimates Colorado is short 3,500 volunteer fire fighters.

Ending that shortage would require increasing the current volunteer force by more than 40 percent.

Another problem is funding.

Only some of the more than 300 fire agencies that use volunteers can rely on tax dollars, Hubbard says

"But a lot of the others ones are strictly volunteer, they not governmental, so they’re relying on things like bake sales and fundraisers to get their money," he added.

Tuesday's report says 12 all-volunteer fire departments are in Colorado’s “red zone” -- the areas most prone to destructive wildfires.