Nationwide Volunteer Firefighter Shortage, State Responds With Bill To Motivate Volunteers

Updated March 9, 2018

The need for firefighters throughout the state of Pennsylvania is the motivating factor behind a new bill which hopes to increase the number of volunteers getting on board with fire stations. According to a report from 21News, “Fire officials say there were 300,000 volunteer firefighters across Pennsylvania in the 1970s. Now in 2018, there are roughly 50,000.” Obviously, that’s a huge drop in numbers, as Senator Randy Vulakovich noted, “It’s pretty dire.”

Senate Bill 955, which Vulakovich is sponsoring, seeks to improve that number, by creating a program that would teach fire and EMS training in high schools, vocational schools, and community colleges, with students earning credits for the classes.

Vulakovich noted, “I am hearing that departments are in distress. As far as volunteer fire stations go and departments, there are EMS authorities that have closed or merged with someone else.”

Vulakovich estimates that the programs need $450,000 funding with no cost to the volunteer fire company, volunteer EMS company, or the student.

Vulakovich further explained:

“They [the fire departments] have a responsibility to make sure that their members are protected. The best way to protect them is specialized training. Whether or not it’s required by state law or not, I would do it and they’re doing it. They want to make sure those people are trained.”

Hampden Township Fire Administrator Doug Gouchenaur further noted: “Every volunteer fire company is experiencing the same manpower problems we are,” explaining that the volunteer fire departments need to recruit younger participants.

Senate Bill 955 passed the full Senate and is awaiting consideration in the House Education Committee.

The Bruin Volunteer Fire Department posted an image to their Facebook page, reading: “There are two types of people: those who call for help and those who are the help. Be the one doing while others are waiting.”

Along with the image, they explained: “In 1976 there were 300,000 Volunteer Firefighters in Pennsylvania, today there are just over 50,000. We are no exception as Volunteer Fire Departments across the Commonwealth struggle to maintain active volunteer rosters necessary to provide emergency services to their communities. Each and everyone of our volunteers are from the local community, ‘Neighbors Helping Neighbors’, and we could really use your help. New Volunteers are always needed and there is a ‘Job For Everyone’ including Firefighters, Emergency Medical Responders (EMRs), Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs), Rescue Technicians, Support Personnel, Administrative Personnel and help is always needed with our fundraising activities.”

They continued: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. Business Meetings are held the second Sunday of the month at 7:30pm and Drill Nights are held Wednesdays at 7:00pm.”

The volunteer firefighter shortage isn’t unique to just the state of Pennsylvania either, as nationwide, the numbers of volunteers have been steadily dwindling. According to a Fox News report from 2017, the number of volunteer firefighters has fallen by 10% since 1984, while call volume has tripled during that time.

Those commenting on the Fox News story had their theories about the drastic drop in volunteers, with one person noting: “People want to get paid. It’s that simple.”