ELKHART, Ind. (CBS Local) — A national shortage of volunteer firefighters and first responders has prompted a community college in Indiana to offer free tuition to get more people to join up.

Ivy Tech Community College, with more than 40 locations statewide, will provide funding for students for two years and up to $250,000 for the program starting the 2020 spring semester. Students who are interested can apply now.

“It’s kind of like a GI Bill for volunteer firefighters,” Indiana Volunteer Firefighters Association president Paul Holcomb told the South Bend Tribune.

The IVFA has lost more than 1,400 volunteer firefighters since 2009. That’s about a 9 percent drop.

“We have a huge shortage in the volunteer ranks just because it’s hard for folks to dedicate time outside of their family life, or outside of the things they enjoy or their full time jobs,” Deputy Chief Jim Engmark with the Needham Community Volunteer Fire Department told WISH.

The scholarship will cover tuition and technology fees for all for-credit programs at Ivy Tech, except the Flight Aviation and General Studies programs.

Students can attend full-time or part-time and there is no credit hour limit.

“There is a huge shortage of volunteer firefighters throughout the country and giving them something back, some kind of incentive to come and do the job is key. It’s huge,” said Captain Tim Young with the Needham Community Volunteer Fire Department.

Volunteer firefighters hope more schools do the same.

“For other schools to jump on board with this, would just be fantastic,” said Engmark.

Texas and New York state already have a statewide reimbursement program for volunteer firefighters.

Comments