HARRISBURG -- Harrisburg Fire Bureau Chief Brian Enterline knows Pennsylvania is facing a problem when it comes to its firefighters.
"Being a firefighter can and will kill you," he says. "You will become a statistic. We're looking to reduce the number of statistics throughout the country."
Enterline and his department came up with the idea for The Art of Firemanship Days, a two-day training workshop event for firefighters across the region, state, and nationally. Around 150 firefighters and trainees are taking part in the program, which began Friday morning. It is running in conjunction to, but not affiliated with, the annual Pennsylvania Fire Expo at the Farm Show Complex.
According to FEMA, 84 Pennsylvania firefighters have been killed on-duty in the last decade, second-most in the nation to New York (85). In 2015, seven firefighters have already died while on the scene of a fire.
Training isn't where it needs to be, according to Enterline. Currently, Pennsylvania does not mandate volunteer firefighter training. Thommy Abbott, attending the Firemanship Days workshop with the West Manchester Volunteer Fire Department, is a trained and certified firefighter.
"It's good to know someone right there with you has your back," he says. "He knows what to do if something happens to you and vice versa."
Abbott is part of a dying breed in Pennsylvania. Volunteer firefighters are dwindling, down from approximately 300,000 in the 1970's to around 50,000 today, according to Pennsylvania Fire Commissioner Tim Solobay. He is pushing for state lawmakers to pass legislation which would help volunteer fire departments recruit more men and women. Currently, Senate Bill 299, which would give financial incentives to volunteer firefighters, is being sent through Pennsylvania Senate committees.
"It’s either you pay something now," Solobay says, "Or you pay a whole lot more down the road when you have to replace that volunteer company with a career department."
Solobay says the lack of young firefighters is directly leading to the increased death toll. Heart attack is one of the leading causes of death amongst firefighters today, with many older volunteers having a false sense of ability, he says.
Pennsylvania has been discussing using hybrid (part-volunteer/part-career) regional departments, Enterline says, to combat the decreasing number of volunteer departments. In the meantime, he's hoping to help current firefighters with a little "firemanship."
"It's a brotherhood," Enterline says. "Coming together and training."