EAST PROSPECT, Pa.-- It's a risky job, putting on turnout gear and heading straight for flames. Volunteer firefighters do it with no compensation, and departments across the state are in desperate need; running critically low on members.
When calls come in, Josh Groft is on his way to help. He's Chief of the East Prospect Fire Department in York County, but he didn't grow up wanting to be a firefighter.
Chief Groft says, "Back when I was a teenager, I just ran the streets just like any other teenager and I got myself in some trouble and my cousin actually talked me into at least joining and trying it out for a month."
That month turned in to years. Groft has seen a quite a bit in that time, including a drop in volunteers, and he's not the only one. It's the same story at neighboring Craley Community Fire Company.
Craley's Deputy Chief Casey Smith says, "In the 13 years I've been here it has, it's the worst I've seen, we used to be able to turn out 20 plus people for a call."
Jesse Franz, Chief of Craley says, "If we get a call at 7:00 in the morning, we might only have two or three people at the most, on a Saturday night, we might get 15 to 20, you just never know what's coming and that's the biggest and most difficult part of trying to run a volunteer organization."
Pennsylvania's standards to become a volunteer firefighter might surprise you though. There are actually no minimum requirements; technically anyone can walk onto a fire scene, grab a hose and fight a fire. But, the majority of departments in the Commonwealth don't allow that, they require their volunteers to get certified.
East Prospect's Deputy Chief Lou Chiricello says, "I couldn't live with it if I sent somebody into a fire or another incident and they don't have that level of training and they never... old style firefighting, it just doesn't work anymore, people are going to get hurt, they're going to get injured, and it's just unsafe."
"The training helps them be aware of all surroundings when they are on fires scenes, what to look for," Chief Groft says.
Courses are held three times a year, at the York County Fire School in Manchester Township. It's a big commitment for the students, but each has their own motivation for being there.
Student Dylan Hughes says, "Ever since I was 5-year sold, my grandpa is a firefighter with 99 in the city, Richard Staley, so that got me thinking, hey I wanna be just like him."
Trey Barnett is also going through training. He says, "I really enjoy hanging out with my buddies and be able to protect and help out people when they need us."
It takes more than 160-hours of training to become certified. Students learn how to open hydrants, use breathing apparatus, portable radios, and the list goes on.
It takes more than three months, plus online classes, Hazmat, CPR and first aid training, but the alternative is not an option.
Craley's Assistant Chief Kyle Briggs says, "One of my worst fears is losing one of my guys on the fire ground and as short-handed as we are, I'm not willing to take that gamble with anybody's life."
Volunteer firefighters must also pass a background check and be voted in by current members at their respective departments. Many fire companies are trying to attract volunteers by advertising on social media, in fliers; even starting junior firefighter programs. Most are also looking for social members as well to help with other aspects, like fundraising.