Adams County is facing a shortage of first responders, according to a recent article by reporter Amy Stansbury in the Hanover Evening Sun.
Stansbury reported that Pennsylvania’s current volunteer firefighting force is just a fraction of the size it once was, down to 50,000 from 300,000 at its peak in the mid 1970s.
While the city of York is patrolled by a professional firefighting crew, many of the outlying suburbs and smaller townships around the county depend on volunteers.
Services provided by fire personnel run the gamut from battling blazes, including the fire that displaced 12 in York recently, to responding to accidents and medical emergencies, such as the recent CO leak at York County Prison, aiding with debris removal during severe weather as they were called on to do when Hurricane Sandy hit the area and even participating in water rescues.
So would smaller crews have a drastic impact on the ability of some York County departments to provide services?
In a word, yes, said Tony Myers, fire chief of the Shrewsbury Volunteer Fire Company. Smaller forces could potentially cripple a department.
“A reduction of volunteers in our department would force us to go to a paid firefighter department, which means an increase in local taxes on the municipalities we respond in,” Myers said in an email. “The financial impact would be devastating.”
Myers noted that his department had felt the effects of the statewide decline in volunteers over the last 10 years. The cause of the decline is multifaceted and includes a lack of incentive programs and tightening finances, which have caused some volunteers to leave the department in search of a second job, Myers said.
Eric Hawkins, chief of the Fairview Fire Department, cited time of day as another hurdle for volunteers. Many working full-time jobs simply can’t take time off to respond to calls during the day.
But the biggest reason many are dissuaded from joining the department? According to Hawkins, it’s the training.
“It takes almost 200 total hours of training to become a fully qualified interior firefighter. Additional hours are needed to drive and operated fire equipment,” Hawkins said in an email.
“Everyone is so busy with family and work,” Hawkins said. “They just don’t have the time to train and become active. Years ago, it didn’t take as much in classroom training as it does today. You learned a lot just going out and getting the experience. Hands on training I’ll say. Times have changed.”
And not only does the job require a bigger commitment, but it has also become more dangerous, as evidenced by the recent slaying of firefighters in Webster, New York.
Hawkins said the added danger of working in an increasingly complicated society will now be weighing on his mind as he carried out his duties.
“I have to think twice before responding to some calls now,” he said. “I have a 3-year-old that needs me more than ‘joe public.’ It’s a shame that we have to be faced with this.”