The tough economy is taking its toll on many volunteer fire departments that are struggling to recruit and keep firefighters. But the town of Matthews has come up with an aggressive way to entice volunteers: by rewarding them.
Right now, Matthews Fire and EMS has only nine full-time firefighters. It has 60 volunteer firefighters, but the department wants 90. One way it's trying to do that is by offering monthly incentives, like meals and cash.
"We know we offer more incentives than other departments," Chief Dennis Green said.
Green said the economy has made it tougher to recruit volunteers. So he created a point system that rewards volunteers up to $800 a month, depending on training and hours. The money comes from the town's general fund, and Green said it's cost-effective.
"What we spend on a volunteer is less than one percent what we would spend on a full-time position," Green said.
The incentive program has been so successful, only about 10 percent of all firefighters in Matthews are actually from the town. Still, more volunteers are needed.
For more information on Matthews' volunteer firefighter program, head to www.matthewsnc.gov.