What If There Was a Fire and Nobody Came? Delaware County’s Volunteer Firefighter Dilemma

David Bjorkgren
By
Image via Kenny Cooper, WHYY.

These days, firefighters do more than put out fires, yet many Delaware County fire companies struggle to find enough volunteers to meet the need, writes Kenney Cooper for whyy.org.

The pandemic has made their jobs that much harder.

The number of volunteers available to respond has dropped in Pennsylvania from 300,000 in the 1970s, to 38,000 in 2018.

The reduction has meant fire company mergers in Delaware and Bucks Counties.  In 2018, manpower shortages and funding issues closed the Millbourne Borough Fire Company after 118 years in service.

Derrick Sawyer chief of the Upper Darby Township Fire Department oversees five companies with a mix of paid and volunteer firefighters.

He said the role of the firefighter has changed.

 “Your firefighters aren’t just responding to fires,” he said. “They respond to fires and respond to shootings, accidents, hazardous material spills… when you have these snowstorms, they have to respond to snowstorms, rainstorms.”

Two-thirds of the U.S. landmass is protected by volunteers, said Steve Hirsch, chairman of the National Volunteer Fire Council.

 “There are communities that are trying to do fire service with volunteers that probably need career staff,” Hirsch said.

Read more at whyy.org about the difficulties of maintaining a volunteer fire department.

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