Towns Gang up for Volunteer Fire Companies

"Used to be," longtime firefighters say, that fire companies had a steady supply of volunteers, plenty of willing hands on fire calls, and could get by on one or two fund-raising events a year.

"Used to be," longtime firefighters say, that fire companies had a steady supply of volunteers, plenty of willing hands on fire calls, and could get by on one or two fund-raising events a year.

The volunteer fire service is just not that way anymore. The number of volunteers continues to dwindle, affecting the ability of fire companies to meet their commitment to public safety.

The time for talk about what "used to be" is over, say a group of emergency service workers and municipal officials in Franklin County, who are orchestrating formation of a new group that will be the one voice the volunteer fire service says it needs.

"Retaining and recruiting volunteers is the biggest problem. It should be our priority," said Sam Cressler, a supervisor in Southampton Township. "We have to change the way we've been doing things."

The county Association of Township Officials plans to form the Franklin County Emergency Services Alliance to help volunteers by developing recruitment, retention, training and leadership programs. A charter and bylaws are expected to be ready for municipal vote this summer.

The county has 16 fire companies, of which one is fully paid.

Individually, the fire companies can't do much about the volunteer problem, according to Ken North, the

Ted Snively, a paid EMT

Career center program may hold key to training future

About half of the more than 300 students who have graduated from Franklin County Career and Technology Center's protective services program are working in emergency services, according to the program director.

A handful are in the military as military police. Many volunteer with local fire and ambulance companies.

John Fahnestock, program director, said the 23 to 25 slots in the program are filled every year, with a waiting list.

"It's been a successful program," he said. "And it's been a boost to the county emergency services."

The number of volunteers has been dwindling across the United States since the 1980s. Volunteers have been looking at ways to increase their numbers.

Emergency personnel and municipal leaders have formed the county Emergency Services Alliance, to help develop training, recruiting and retention programs for volunteer fire companies.

The center's program may help, according to Fahnestock.

The tech center added the protective services program to its curriculum eight years ago. It is comprised of training for firefighting, emergency medical technician work and law enforcement.

After they start the three-year course, an average of four students join a local fire company, Fahnestock said. About 25% are already junior members.

In this year's graduating class, two have already decided on emergency services careers. Jamie Izer, Greencastle, and Adam Baumgardner, Mont Alto, will attend paramedic schools. Both are emergency medical technicians.

"They get the training here," Fahnestock said. "When they graduate, they're ready to become senior members or go to work."

Training, especially for new volunteers, is one of the areas affecting today's fire county's training officer and a volunteer with the Franklin Fire Company. Some have succeeded, some haven't, he said.

"We need one voice -- countywide," Waynesboro Borough Manager Lloyd Hamberger said. "We must protect all our volunteers."

Franklin's plan is a first among the state's 67 counties in addressing the dwindling numbers of active volunteers, said Dean Fernsler, director of the state's Governor's Center for Local Government Services.

Across the state, there are 85 efforts under way to preserve the volunteer fire service, primarily through mergers and consolidations, according to Fernsler. There have been nine mergers and 10 consolidations, resulting in 45 companies becoming 19.

One regional effort in Lancaster County, he said, pulled together seven fire and ambulance services and three local governments.

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