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Ivy Tech launching free tuition program for volunteer firefighters

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A national shortage on firefighters has a local community college stepping up and offering free tuition in an effort to get more people to join Indiana fire departments.

Ivy Tech Community College is launching a pilot funding program that goes for the next two academic years (2020-2021 and 2021-2022).

Interested students can start applying now.

“We have approximately 18-20 volunteers right now. We would love to have 50-60. I mean, 100 would be great, but I know we’ll never get to that point,” said Dep. Chief Jim Engmark with the Needham Community Volunteer Fire Department.

But Engmark says a scholarship program like the one Ivy Tech is offering, could help them get there.

“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,” said Engmark.

Starting next school year, Ivy Tech Community College will provide funding for students for two years and up to $250,000 for the program.

Applicants must be a volunteer firefighter or a volunteer EMS personnel to be eligible for the scholarship.

The scholarship will cover tuition and technology fees for all for-credit programs at Ivy Tech Community College, except flight, aviation, and general studies.

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

“That’ll help us in the long run,” said Engmark.

According to the Indiana Volunteer Firefighters Association, the number of volunteer firefighters has been on a downward trend in recent years.

From 2009 to 2019, the IVFA has lost more than 1,400 volunteer firefighters.

That’s about a 9% drop.

With the majority of the fire departments in Indiana, being volunteer, those numbers are daunting.

“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 Capt. Tim Young with the Needham Community Volunteer Fire Department.

With a new scholarship program in line to help combat those numbers, volunteer firefighters hope more schools do the same.

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

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