For years, the Valdosta Fire Department enjoyed a full staff with plenty of trained professionals ready to respond to any blaze, but in recent months this one department has lost 10 employees to more lucrative firefighting jobs in Iraq.
J.D. Rice, Valdosta Fire Chief, says, "I understand why they did it. There's a need for firefighters over there, so my heart goes out to them. On the surface, it seems like our department is suffering, but what we've been able to do is hire off-duty personnel to do double shifts to cover for the shortages."
The Azalea City seems to be the only one really suffering in our region. Officials with the Tallahassee Fire Department say they've only had two firefighters go overseas to work, while officials in Thomasville say not one firefighter from their department has left for this reason.
Replacing 10 firefighters who had been trained and fully prepared to jump aboard these fire trucks and respond to any emergencies around the Azalea City may seem like a tough task, but luckily for Valdosta Fire, a new fire training program is underway at Valdosta Technical College, ready to help fill those vacancies.
Benjamin Tillman, a fire science instructor, says, "I think our students are prepared. We've drilled them and they've passed the national professional qualification standards, and I think they are more than ready to fill those spots."
Valdosta's fire chief says the new firefighters should be in place in just a few weeks.