It’s a slice of small-town America that’s disappearing across the country. Just like the mom-and-pop hardware store, the volunteer fire department is being replaced with big-city professional departments.
In the Florida Keys, only two all-volunteer departments have managed to hang on, along with volunteers serving on paid departments. They keep busy tending to injured car crash victims on the Oversea Highway, and putting out boat and house fires.
But Key Largo, the largest of the volunteer fire departments left in Monroe County and around since the 1950s, is struggling for volunteers. And major change may not be far behind. The department’s leadership and the taxing board that oversees its budget said this week that the all-volunteer model is becoming unsustainable as the cost of living continues to increase in the Keys. A proposal to bring on more paid firefighters would mean a tax increase.