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Firefighter shortage very concerning

The shortage of volunteer firefighters in Pennsylvania — indeed, across the country — is not a new phenomenon.

It has been a topic of increasing discussion for decades, with leaders of volunteer departments scratching their heads regarding the growing problem as they’ve tried to brainstorm new strategies for bolstering membership.

Nevertheless, the membership numbers have continued to decrease, and that is bad news not only for departments themselves but, even more importantly, for the communities and people that they serve.

At least for now, it appears that the days are gone when serving with a local fire department was a one-generation-to-another thing for many families.

It is not as often now that young people follow their fathers and grandfathers into the volunteer fire-fighting ranks; today, young people are wrapped up with much more to do than what young people decades ago had to occupy their time.

Meanwhile, many volunteer departments have failed in their attempts to adequately publicize their need for additional personnel, not only in regard to actually entering a burning structure to knock down flames but also regarding other department necessities such as helping to maintain equipment and apparatuses.

There are places here in Pennsylvania where a heart-to-heart discussion with the community about the importance of additional personnel might produce manpower dividends, but that avenue of communication too often has not been pursued.

That needs to change.

Of course, fire department recruitment efforts are undermined by findings confirming risks, beyond the actual dangers with which firefighters must deal when they arrive at the scene of a burning structure.

Recent stories focusing on the increased risk of cancer that fire crews face might have been dubbed by some firefighters and some non-firefighters alike as counterproductive in terms of future recruitment efforts.

However, it would be unconscionable to withhold such knowledge, when procedures and equipment exist to minimize the cancer risk associated with fire-fighting.

Meaningful also is when help can be mobilized from above and beyond the local fire station to get the word out about needs, personnel or otherwise.

But regarding badly needed manpower and “womanpower.” the challenge is more formidable for fire departments, necessitating help and planning strategies from any source willing to offer its resources or expertise.

Consider what has been happening in the state of Delaware.

As reported on June 16 by WHYY News, Philadelphia, a task force of Delaware legislators, emergency responders and firefighters has published recommendations to address the volunteer firefighter shortage in that state.

They include tax credits, tuition reimbursement, adding public safety courses in vocational high schools and development of a marketing campaign to emphasize to young people the benefits of volunteer fire service.

How successful Delaware’s effort will be is open only to speculation at this time, but the state, whose first volunteer fire company was organized in 1775, merits praise regarding its currents efforts on the manpower front.

That situation extends even to Dover, its capital city, since Delaware is the only U.S. state that uses volunteer firefighters in its capital city.

The need to pay attention to Delaware’s success or failure in its manpower venture is obvious.

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