Wrightsville, York County – It’s no secret that the number of volunteer firefighters is dwindling. In most communities across Central Pennsylvania, the volunteers are the first responders in the community. But, the number of first responders is falling sharply. And this fall, could have a huge impact on your wallet.
Unfortunately signs saying volunteers needed are becoming the norm around the state. In the past 30 plus years, the number of volunteers has dropped by over 80 percent. This drop is putting your safety, your wallet and the departments at risk.
According to the State Fire Marshall, Ed Mann, there are only about 50 to 60,000 volunteer firefighters across Pennsylvania right now. That number is down from 300,000 in 1977. So many factors are to blame for the loss including family dynamics and the town structures. But the loss of manpower may be putting your safety and your wallet in danger.
Take into account the straight costs of doing business. The State Fire Marshall estimates volunteers save taxpayers about $6 billion dollars as compared to having to pay for full-time firefighters. In Hellam Township, Wrightsville Fire Chief Fred Smeltzer estimates volunteers at Wrightsville Fire Department and Hellam Township Fire Department save taxpayers in that small community between $3 million and $3.5 million a year.
“There is a lot of work to be done because there is millions of dollars that need to be spent in this and many other municipal areas in the next 10, 15, 20 years to maintain the fire service,” said Chief Fred Smeltzer, Hellam Township.
For that reason, many departments are continuing to look for good, young members to take the torch and continue the service. If you are interested in the fire service, you can contact any of the surrounding departments.
Volunteerism comes with a price. An entry-level firefighter is required to do 166 hours of training in four different modules before being certified to help the community. The numbers rise as firefighters look to get higher certifications like Firefighter I or Firefighter II classification. Still, all the members we talked with say the brotherhood, camaraderie and the ability to help the community is worth the time.
“I just felt a calling and I decided this is what I wanted to do. I have only been here like two hours and I already feel at home. They treated me great here. I am a person that likes to help someone out whenever I can. I just want to be there to help anyone that needs it,” said 16-year-old Devin Barada who just joined Wrightsville FD today.