Vacant housefires highlighting strain on volunteer fire departments

A string of vacant house fires is being investigated in Kanawha County, West Virginia.
Published: Sep. 20, 2023 at 7:15 PM EDT
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KANAWHA COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) - Two fires at the same vacant home in the Meadowbrook section of Kanawha County are highlighting the strain put on volunteer fire departments at these types of calls.

One fire just before 10 Monday night and another early Wednesday morning had been fought by the Pinch Volunteer Fire Department, Malden Volunteer Fire Department and Air Guard 130th on both calls.

Each fire took substantial time and resources to extinguish.

“On average, they’re usually fully involved before anyone calls 911. Our usual response time in our area for a structure fire is around 12 minutes from dispatch,” said Justin Withrow with Pinch Volunteer Fire Department. “If you think about the time-lapse, that, you know, there’s a lot that can happen in those 12 minutes.”

Once at a fire, Withrow explained aside from protecting other people in occupied homes crews worry about people in other parts of a coverage zone left unattended.

“As a volunteer service, when we have a large fire like that a large call, we might have 12 people available on a good day or good evening but that also means that the rest of our areas are completely uncovered,” Withrow said. “We have Clendenin that helps us out a lot. We have Frame that helps us out Malden and Sissonville, but at the same time, you know, if they get called into our area for a call, they’re leaving their own area vulnerable.”

Even if you find yourself regularly calling in about incidents in the neighborhood, Withrow urges you to not give up on emergency services.

‘I know that we get very desensitized to things that we have to commonly deal with. One of those things might be a house in the neighborhood that continually has issues with people breaking in and staying in overnight, to the point where you feel like it’s pointless to call 911 and report it. It’s not pointless,” Withrow said. “Every single report gets taken notice of everyone, whether or not there’s a deputy available to come to that at that very second night. It is all taken into account, and it does have an effect.”