WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (WETM) – Many rural parts of the state are struggling to get the help they need. More and more rural fire departments are seeing a decline in the number of volunteers.
“Documents have shown that the state of Pennsylvania in the 1970s had nearly 300,000 volunteer firefighters. By the early 2000s, it had fallen to 30,000. That was a 90% drop. We’ve certainly seen it here, ”said Joseph Hopple, Fire Chief, Old Lycoming Township Volunteer Fire Company.
The Twin Towers rural fire departments need volunteers. Nowadays, it is even more difficult to recruit.
“The town of Williamsport has two colleges, Penn College of Technology and Lycoming College. We actively recruit students attending these institutions within the fire departments and EMS. We integrate them into our business while they are studying here, ”said Hopple.
To make it easier to recruit firefighters for the Township of Old Lycoming, they developed a program to help students transition from college to the fire team.
“They live in programs where we provide housing for up to six students. They have to work several hours a week to cover this cost. Two of those students have since graduated and now have jobs here, ”Hopple said.
The Township of Old Lycoming Fire Department participates in career fairs when available. However, Covid-19 has strained in-person recruiting efforts.
“We use our social media sites, our website, talk to people, distribute flyers. We do mailouts to community notice boards, ”Hopple said.
There are strict requirements to follow before joining the fire department.
“People can start volunteering with minimal hours of training. We have security training and they go through it. To become a firefighter, it takes almost 150 hours of training plus a test upon completion, ”said Hopple.
Firefighters would feel well equipped with a strength of four fighters if that was possible.
“We are constantly on the lookout for people to join our fire department,” said Hopple.
We are pleased to receive two to three candidates per month. Sometimes they receive people who have moved to our region with training already.
It takes about six months to a year for a candidate to complete basic training. COVID-19 made it difficult to complete the course.
Firefighters cannot pay volunteers at this time. They adopt other incentives such as providing company uniforms to keep people interested in volunteer firefighter opportunities.
If you are interested in becoming a volunteer firefighter with the Old Lycoming Township Fire Company, visit their website to express your interest.