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Volunteer firefighters in decline

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Volunteer firefighters in decline

Dublin Firehouse, Dublin Pa

JUSTIN BIFOLCO, Centurion Staff

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For a few years now, Bucks County fire companies have been in the midst of a treacherous twofront war, as many fire departments are faced with the task of fighting fires and a steadily decreasing amount of volunteers.

“We have seen a lack of 18-30 year old members apply within the last five years,” said David Worthington, Perkasie fire chief and 40-year fire service veteran.

“The median age of our active firefighters is climbing, creating a shortage of volunteers as older members retire from active duty.”

As the amount of volunteers diminishes, the workload for current volunteers is increased. Often times, fire departments must turn to nearby departments for assistance.

“Fire departments with dire manning issues begin to rely on neighboring mutual aid departments for the additional manpower for, not only structure fires, but now automatic fire alarms.

These automatic fire alarms, or AFA, responses create burn-out conditions among active fire fighters, as they leave workplace or family situations,” said Worthington.

Worthington explained the most difficult times are between 4 a.m. to 9 a.m. due to work obligations.

“During the daytime hours, we are able to respond 88 percent of the time with a crew of six,” Worthington explained.”

The dip in volunteer firefighters is more drastic than it might appear. According to the United States Fire Administration, 71 percent of active fire departments run solely on volunteer service with an additional 16 percent being “mostly volunteer.”

Out of all the fire departments in Pennsylvania, 90.1 percent are fully volunteer-operated. Undergoing the nationally-certified training to become a firefighter is free in Bucks County.

Worthington spoke about reasons why young people should get involved in their local fire departments.

“In the current times of X-Games, Spartan races and extreme fitness, the same type of challenges can be overcome as a member of the fire service. Whether fighting fire, technical rope rescues, water emergencies or vehicular extrications; members need to be physically fit and ready for any mental challenge to overcome a problem,” said Worthington.

“It’s rewarding to be able to handle what the public considers a stressful situation, with the calm demeanor of having trained for a challenge and using those skills to resolve the problem,” he continued.

“We are lucky to have a couple members that work in the area that can leave and come to fire calls, but the amount of guys coming out is tough,” said Trevor Dalton, 19 and Delaware Valley University student and Dublin Fire Department volunteer.

Dalton continued, “It’s not uncommon for us and other local fire departments to only have trucks with three or four guys on it including the driver during the day time because most of our members are either working or at school.”

Dalton explained it is not just a local issue, but also a countrywide epidemic. “There have been stories not only in Bucks County, but around the nation where volunteer departments have had late response times or not being able to get to calls at all,” said Dalton.

“People in the community need to realize how important it really is to have dedicated volunteer departments.”

“It’s awesome being able to help out your community and make friends that will last for a lifetime from the fire department.

You go through a lot of things with this group of men and women that a lot of people will never understand and it brings you even closer together,” said Dalton.

 

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Volunteer firefighters in decline