CLARKS SUMMIT — Committed.
That one word is often used to describe volunteer firemen and emergency personnel who operate local fire companies and ambulance services. And, according to Pennsylvania State Fire Commissioner Tim Solobay who frequently speaks to related assemblies across the state, this is true everywhere he goes.
“Though names and faces change, the commitment and what these individuals do stays consistent across the commonwealth,” he said in the opening of his presentation at an event hosted by the Abington Council of Governments (ACOG) Thursday evening at the Clarks Summit Fire Company.
But the main portion of his talk focused on three other common threads that were just as familiar to the crowd of about 50 local volunteer firemen and elected officials – three problems faced by fire departments around the state and country:
• A lack of funding.
Solobay explained volunteer fire departments are left to rely on insufficient government funding and local fundraising events, such as bingo and chicken barbecues. He pointed out while nobody wants to raise taxes, when someone dials 9-1-1, he or she is not thinking about tax rates – only the need for emergency services.
• A lack of volunteers.
“People just don’t want to volunteer like they used to,” Solobay said.
He listed possible reasons for this, including smaller family sizes, the dangers of the position, an increase in available youth activities, and more people commuting to and from work.
• A lack of training options.
Some people don’t have the time to go through the training requirements. Others don’t have the financial resources to travel to training locations. For this reason, Solobay said plans are in the works to create online training programs, which will be accessible for free to fire companies throughout the state.
The presentation was followed by a question and answer session, ending with a time for attendees to mingle and enjoy refreshments. The event was attended by representatives of several area fire companies. Those listed on the sign-in sheet included Lake Winola, Elmhurst-Roaring Brook, Chinchilla, Scott, Clarks Summit, Factoryville, Archbald, Newton-Ransom, Dalton, North Pocono, Greenfield, Clifford, Greenwood and Thornhurst.
“I thought it was very informative and it was nice to meet the fire commissioner in person,” said Don Snyder, of the Chinchilla Hose Company.
Snyder said he agreed on the three points made by Solobay and added he believes many people don’t realize how much training and time is involved in becoming a volunteer.
“I think a lot of people don’t know that it’s volunteer,” added Jerry Hayes, another Chinchilla member.
Duane Hoover, Elmhurst-Roaring Brook, also touched on this, pointing out that volunteer firemen also have regular jobs and families.
“I don’t think half the people realize we do what we do for free,” he said.
Reach Elizabeth Baumeister at 570-704-3943 or on Twitter @AbingtonJournal.