AP NEWS

Somerset County fire departments struggle to find volunteers

December 3, 2018

There are many fire departments that are staffed by older guys who are beginning to see the signs of advancing age. It’s challenged local fire departments and companies across the state.

Stoystown is one of the departments struggling with that issue, according to Fire Chief Dave Johnson.

“That’s the problem. I’m sure there are a lot of departments like ours that are full of active guys who are aging and can’t do what they used to,” he said. “If you don’t have the younger guys to step in for them, you lose active members who can do the physical part of it. When you don’t have anyone to come in to step into it, that’s a very big concern.”

The number of volunteer firefighters, which stood at more than 300,000 in the 1970s, is down to 38,000 today, according to a new report issued to the state legislature.

Dwindling fire departments have struggled to adjust to a line of work that demands much more time and energy than it did four decades ago.

Brad Shober, Shanksville fire chief, said that the amount of time training has gone from 40 hours when he started to more than 160 now. The other challenge is fundraising, which is where the majority of a firefighter’s time is spent.

“The fundraising seems to burn out a lot of guys. They’re willing to answer alarms when someone is in need,” Shober said. “But the amount of time for fundraising puts a whammy as well.”

A number of fire departments, including the one in Somerset, have partnered with school districts to permit students to train for the positions while they are attending one of the local facilities. Rockwood Volunteer Fire Department hopes to get that set up in the coming few months, according to Fire Chief Chad Lytle.

“We’re starting to age,” Lytle said. “That’s the only issue. The younger generation needs to step up.”

Johnson said his department has struggled to get younger people interested.

“We have one junior fireman. We try to keep it appealing,” Johnson said. “We try to do different things. You have a whole bunch of other things to do, and you now have to do that. I wish we had more that would step up so we could have a better program. Having one is tough. If a couple were involved, they could become friends and stick around long.”

AP RADIO
Update hourly