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.

"Grants are not the answer. They won't solve the problem," Fernsler said. "It's like putting a Band-Aid on a gaping wound."

'State loves ... regional plans'

The alliance, according to Ben Thomas Jr., Antrim Township administrator, could apply for grants to be distributed to the fire companies. The alliance would not be the one spending the money, he said.

At last week's state township convention, Thomas said he was told that if Franklin organizes, grants would be available.

"The state loves to see regional plans," Thomas said. "As an organization, we could bring more money into the county."

Anna Swailes, secretary/treasurer of Metal Township, acknowledged that solving financial problems isn't easy. But that doesn't mean the alliance and volunteers shouldn't try.

"There has to be a partnership between local government and the fire companies," she said. "We both must take a step forward."

Although details have not been worked out, the alliance wants training programs for firefighters and officers. This week's meeting was the group's second.

No longer can volunteers join fire companies and go on their fires call the same day. Today, it could take several months for that to happen.

Stringent training requirements, according to the volunteers, is one of the main reasons they hear why individual don't join or stay. The state requires training in essentials of firefighting and hazardous materials before a volunteer can ride on the apparatus and fight fire.

Training center may help

Other training is needed in vehicle rescue, emergency medical, driving apparatus and officer command. The Franklin County Fire Chief's Association's fire training center is expected to help reduce travel time and enable volunteers to get more training.

The center is being built adjacent to the Franklin County Career and Technology Center, off Loop Road. It would eliminate the need to go to Lewistown, Harrisburg, or even Emittsburg, Md., for training.

"Some state training isn't offered here at the time," North said. "That means we travel and often we wait because there are waiting lists."

Snively said two new volunteers who joined at Fayetteville earlier this month must wait several months for firefighting training. That class started in March.

"So, they wait and watch others go out on calls," Snively said. "It's frustrating."

Snively said he knows of a couple volunteers who left fire departments because of that.

Local governments should do more to help the fire service, which won't change the tradition and heritage of the volunteers, according to Frank Hobbs, a Marion firefighter and Guilford Township supervisor. In no way would the alliance be taking over.

"There'll be no change in what they do or how they do it," Hobbs said. "Hopefully, the companies will have a few more members and the volunteers a little more time."