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Eastern Kentucky University professor Dr. Scotty Dunlap’s passion for public safety and emergency management lead him to an unusual place, Frametown, West Virginia, for an unusual activity, producing a half hour documentary about a group of female volunteer firefighters in what has traditionally been a male-dominated field. 

Over the course of a year Dunlap chronicled the history and membership of the Frametown, WV volunteer fire department where roughly 60 percent of volunteers are women, compared to the national average of 11 percent. 

The documentary, “Frametown,” has aired multiple times statewide on public television in both Kentucky and West Virginia, and is available on YouTube and on the KET website here:

“The film tells the story of this inspiring department that is predominantly comprised of females. Volunteerism in the fire service is declining and my hope is that through telling their story, females of all ages might be encouraged to join the volunteer fire department in their community,” Dunlap said. 

Dunlap, who holds holds a Doctorate of Education in Higher and Adult Education from the University of Memphis and an MS in Loss Prevention and Safety from Eastern Kentucky University, and is a professional member of the American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP) and is a Certified Safety Professional (CSP), said volunteer firefighters can be a valuable resource for communities who either can’t afford to have a paid fire department, or don’t have a need for it. But Dunlap said with volunteerism waning, women can play a critical role in public safety and preparedness. 

“It was important to explore what has caused such a large level of female engagement in Frametown so that the information could be utilized on a more broad level to recruit females.” Dunlap said. “The volunteer fire service is struggling to staff departments, which are responsible for protecting approximately 80 percent of the geographic United States. Engaging females can be one critical solution in addressing that problem.”

“Frametown” has already had a wide viewing on West Virginia Public Broadcasting, which aired the film and had significant viewership in a slow time slot.” Dunlap said. 

The documentary production was funded by the Eastern Kentucky University College of Justice and Safety, the Central Appalachian Regional Education and Research Center, and the West Virginia University Fire Service Extension. 

Because so much of the United States is rural, like the hundreds of small towns in West Virginia and Kentucky, as well as many unincorporated areas, Dunlap’s next goal is to get young people involved in public service through volunteerism in fire departments. 

The volunteer fire service is in need of a next generation of volunteers. I plan to explore a solution by investigating the engagement of teenagers in junior volunteer fire programs. I plan to do this by interviewing a large number of diverse teens from across the country who attend the West Virginia University Junior Firefighter Camp held each summer at the West Virginia Fire Academy,” Dunlap said. “Telling their stories could make teenagers aware of the opportunity to join their local volunteer fire department, hopefully resulting in engagement into adulthood.”