CHARLOTTE COUNTY, Fla. -- Charlotte County could soon have extra boots on the ground when it comes to fighting fires, and officials plan to make it happen at a lesser expense to taxpayers.
The county's fire department has more than 200 firefighters spread across 16 stations, and they're looking for 25 volunteers who could act as a backup and offer support services.
Fire chief Dennis DiDio says they need people already certified as firefighters and EMTs. He says the team will be especially useful for major fires, special events, and brushfire season.
While there's no pay involved, DiDio still calls the program a win for the county and the volunteers.
"We can use them to our benefit, and they're getting free training, and staying in a fire department to keep their certifications active," DiDio says.
The volunteer positions are not meant to replace paid firefighters, and according to DiDio, the volunteers won't be allowed to fill in for fulltimers.
Larry Lippel, a volunteer firefighter for Punta Gorda's fire department, says he's been been in the business for more than 40 years.
Lippel says those hoping to get paid for the job one day shouldn't disregard the volunteer program. That's because he's seen many times, it can help pave the way to a permanent career.
"You have the experience of testing, the experience of doing the firefighting and everything, so it gives you a little edge," Lippel says.
DiDio says while the county won't have to pay for volunteers' salaries and benefits, there will be a cost to outfit them with uniforms and gear.
Once there is a pool of 25 applicants, he will calculate those costs and present it to the Board of Commissioners for approval.