REYNOLDSBURG (AP) -- The Ohio fire marshal's office is offering free weekend training intended to help Ohio volunteer firefighters meet state certification requirements and to recruit more of them, a task that can be challenging because most volunteers have other jobs and their departments tend to have less funding than professional departments.
More than two dozen participants from around Ohio were set to get classroom and hands-on training during the two-weekend session beginning this weekend at the Ohio Fire Academy in Reynoldsburg, east of Columbus. They learn about equipment, pump operations and how to attack a fire from the exterior, and then take the state certification exam.
Fire Marshal Larry Flowers said the training, which began as a pilot program last April, is meant to help attract volunteers by providing the 36 hours of training they need for free and in a condensed timetable compared with a more typical series of classes over weeks or months.
"The folks that have come have said to us, 'I couldn't have done this any other way,'" Flowers said.
Fire chiefs also have praised the idea, and participants told officials they liked that the training was intense and quick, he said.
"It's just a much easier thing for a volunteer to pull off, to donate those two weekends" instead of going to a periodic class for weeks, said Chief Jim Beckner of the Hamden Volunteer Fire Department in Vinton County, who has sent three volunteers through the training.
The March free training drew so much interest that the state is offering a second class in May -- it's nearly full already -- and plans to continue offering it twice a year or more if demand remains high, Flowers said.
About 70 percent of Ohio fire departments are operated with volunteers, and those who get the free training represent just a tiny fraction of Ohio's roughly 30,000 volunteer firefighters, according to the fire marshal's office.
Jason Pollitt, president of the Ohio State Firefighters Association, said he's noticed a decrease in volunteers since he started two decades ago as a volunteer with the department in Clermont County's Williamsburg Township, where he now works full time.
Basic fire classes through vocational schools and private trainers can cost hundreds of dollars, so the idea of free training is appealing, especially for volunteer departments that operate on annual budgets of $15,000 or $20,000, Pollitt said.
"A lot of them don't have the money to send people, so the free classes help them out," he said.
Beckner, the Hamden chief, said the class offered significant savings for his department, which uses fundraisers to supplement an annual operating budget of less than $15,000.
"We will take advantage of it every chance we get," he said.