Full-time Bennington firefighters means quicker response times in growing community

Although they now have several full-time staff, the department is what is called a ‘combination department,’ meaning they still rely on volunteers.
Bennington Fire is adding nine paid firefighters to the force to shorten response times.
Published: Jan. 3, 2023 at 9:23 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Staffing a fire department 24/7, year-round takes a lot of planning.

Bennington’s fire chief Dan Mallory found that out several years ago when he agreed to lead Bennington Fire & Rescue as they transitioned from a volunteer department to a paid department.

“The biggest thing was going from all-volunteer, we had to go through a series of learning who is going to do what, meaning we had to start from scratch as far a payroll department, HR department, that type of stuff,” Mallory said.

After a year of planning policies, procedures, insurance, and more, the department hired its first nine paid firefighters.

“The call volume is increasing, and it’s a lot for an all-volunteer department, and that was the biggest turn, even the volunteers recognize when we start making 1,000 runs or more, its a lot to do with just an all-volunteer force,” Mallory said.

“[Volunteers] were doing a fantastic job making the calls and responding 24 hours a day, but it was taking a toll on them, you could tell they were starting to get tired and it was the same people responding, so by hiring the first group, that gets the first truck out the door and it gets a crew on the scene right away.”

Although they now have several full-time staff, the department is what is called a ‘combination department,’ meaning they still rely on volunteers.

Mallory says the job can’t be done without them.

“The three or four [firefighters] that are on duty can handle a lot of minor, medical emergencies, but car accidents, fires, or back-to-back calls - we still rely on our volunteers very heavily and we rely on their response to come to help out with those types of incidents.”

Mallory says transitioning to a combination department is necessary as the Bennington community grows and calls increase. He also says it’s been incredibly successful.

“We’re getting on scene within four minutes now, the average used to be eight to nine minutes to arrive on the scene, so we’ve cut our response time in half,” Mallory says. “We’ve also had several calls where by having a shorter response time it has made an impact on the patient’s outcome.”

But Mallory admits there are some challenges, too, like honoring and engaging the volunteers and making sure there’s no division between them and the career firefighters.

“We don’t want to run our volunteers out the door, and that’s one of the biggest challenges you see when you have a combination department as far as having staff that’s all on the same page working together as one team, and I think we’ve done that well here in Bennington.”

Mallory says all firefighters - whether they’re a volunteer or paid - have the same training.

The department also has a ten-year plan.

“We’re estimating when our call volume is going to increase, and as those numbers come up and as our district grows and we get more revenue we’ll be able to add more personnel to it, so as the plan is, every two years or so add one more person per shift,” he says.

The first group of three new hires will begin with the department in February.