Pa. fire departments in crisis-volunteer numbers drop

Investigations

Harrisburg, Pa.- According to the SR6 report, fire services in Pennsylvania are in crisis due to a lack of volunteers. Jerry Ozog was on the committee that helped write the report.

“The decrease in volunteerism in Pennsylvania is significant. In the 1970s there were over 300,000 volunteers in Pennsylvania. Our report showed there are currently about 36,000,” said Jerry Ozog, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Fire and Emergency Services Institute. “For a structure fire, you need a certain amount of personnel on the scene within a certain period of time. Our goal is to have about 20 to 22 firefighters on scene within 13 minutes.”

“The fire chiefs are telling me they have to call more and more companies to safely fight the fire,” said Bruce Trego, Pennsylvania State Fire Commissioner. “Unfortunately there is going to be a large loss of property and I hope not life.”

One of the recommendations in the SR6 report was a focus on recruitment.

“We did receive more money this year in our budget to put on a recruitment and retention program manager and outreach specialist,” said Trego.

In an effort to attract more volunteers some volunteer firefighter training is now being offered online.

“We wanted to make that training more accessible and adapt with a changing culture,” said Trego.

Something else that has changed is fire departments respond to more than just fires. They are often called to pump out flooded basements, car accidents, trees down and in some cases medical calls.

“That places a demand on the volunteer fire system where some stations in Cumberland County are running {up to} 900 calls {a year} and that is very unusual for a volunteer fire department,” said Ozog.

“You see ups and downs,” said Mitch Robb, Fire Chief New Bloomfield Fire Department.

Robb has been a Volunteer Firefighter for 43 years and says incentives may help keep volunteers.

“If you offer a retirement it would keep people in longer. I know friends in Delaware who are getting $200 a month. I think that would be a big way to keep people,” said Robb.

Some fire departments are successful in recruiting young volunteers. Junior Firefighters with New Bloomfield, Thompsontown and Millerstown Fire Departments recently traveled to West Virginia for training.

“It was fun. We met a lot of new people,” said Dominion Ellerman, Volunteer Junior Firefighter New Bloomfield.

Many of the young volunteers stepping up to help fill the rosters at volunteer firehouses have family connections to emergency services.

“I watched my parents do it all my life and I know I wanted to help people so I joined,” said Skylar Walton, Volunteer Junior Firefighter Thompsontown.

“My uncle was a firefighter, so I joined and then I got my friend Tyler to join, said Ellerman.

“We are trying to get more juniors so when the older people leave we can have more people,” said Tyler Kurtz, Junior Volunteer Firefighter New Bloomfield.

With 2,054 fire departments across the state, it can be hard to find the best solution for all. Ozog says it will take a group effort.

“The state may implement some tax breaks, a County may assist with some regional recruitment, and local governments may give firefighters some incentives or breaks in certain municipal services. We have to change some of the ways we are doing things,” said Ozog.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Don't Miss

Fill out my online form.