East Allen gets update on volunteer fire department
East Allen Township Fire Chief Barry Frantz opened the East Allen Township Board of Supervisors meeting Aug. 14 with a briefing on the status of the township’s volunteer fire department.
The bottom line is the fire department is competent and efficient and looks for continued support from the community.
The challenge for the department is the size of the volunteer firefighter force.
“In 1970, there were 300,000 volunteer firefighters in the state. We are down to 38,000 now,” Frantz said.
East Allen has a 20-member force. Eight firefighters live in the township. The crew has two paramedics and at least seven certified firefighters.
The numbers for the fire department have remained relatively constant. Frantz was grateful for the support he receives from the community and recognizes that recruiting new members is difficult.
“Part of the reason we see a decline in recruiting is the time it takes to get the basic qualifications. Things have changed a lot over the years,” Frantz said. “To get the basic instruction, a volunteer needs 164 hours of instruction.”
Decades ago, training was more on-the-job skills.
Frantz made a sweep through local high schools to see if they could generate interest with younger volunteers. According to Frantz, everyone was interested, but only three of the estimated 1,000 students took an application. No one signed on for the program. Frantz is unfazed by the results.
“We want to do it again this year,” he said.
As Frantz noted, volunteer firefighter service is one of those resume-enhancing opportunities that companies look for when hiring and it gives volunteers practice in team building.
To help combat the need for volunteers, East Allen has mutual aid agreements with several nearby volunteer fire departments.
“The mutual aid agreements mean that we always have someone available to put out a fire,” he said.
The other advantage is that mutual aid fire companies can share equipment. East Allen will retire some pieces of equipment because they can get support from other fire companies.
Equipment impacts the cost of running the fire company. Firefighters need to have new gear every 10 years. The personal protective equipment is provided by Fireman’s Relief Funds.
“We don’t get rid of the old gear. We use it for training new firefighters,” said Frantz.
Vehicles are also a cost. The present capital improvement fund for new firefighting equipment requires more than $1,000,000. The main fundraising source is the bingo parties at the fire hall.
“The food is always good at the bingo events,” Frantz said.
The next scheduled event is Nov. 3.
Adding to the maintenance agenda are the parking lot around the fire house and building repairs. The parking lot was never finished because the fire company ran out of money. The new plan is to stabilize the base and put the final top coat on the lot.