Some fire companies are looking for ways to attract new members in an effort to stop the decline that has been going on for several years.
Gerald Lucia, chief of the Mt. Pleasant Volunteer Fire Department, said there are 38 active firemen in the borough's volunteer department. Six are junior firemen who cannot respond to fires, and 20 have enough time in to quit and retain lifetime membership.
“The biggest concern we have right now is if the alarm would go off and we would have no one show up at the fire department,” said Mt. Pleasant Borough Manager Jeff Landy.
If those 20 were to quit today, there would be just 12 active firemen available with the department.
“We are short-staffed by 10 to 20 people,” Landy said. “It’s not just here in Mt. Pleasant, but in all local communities. It’s an issue everywhere."
In neighboring Scottdale Borough, there are 79 firemen on the books with the Scottdale Volunteer Fire Department, with just 31 of those considered active.
Ten of those are retired firemen who still run calls, and six are junior firemen.
“We have definitely seen a decrease in people interested in the fire service,” said Scottdale Fire Chief Buzz Myers. “We have lost more firemen than we have acquired in recent years.”
Lucia believes there are three main factors that are contributing to the lack of volunteers joining fire departments.
First, in most families, both the wife and husband work full-time jobs, which leaves no one to watch the children when the fire whistle goes off.
“When I got in 39 years ago, we had one child at the time, and we were lucky enough to have neighbors who would turn on their porch light when they heard the whistle go off, expecting me to drop the kids off to them,” Lucia said.
Second, there are now many requirements for firefighters that are mandated by the state.
“We're really trying to bring in junior firemen or young men who have no marriage commitments at this point,” Lucia said.
Third factor is fundraising. That that's the biggest detriment, said Lucia. Myers agreed.
“Most of the problems we experience within the department are caused by fundraising and all the work it takes to raise enough money to keep the doors open,” Myers said. “If we could just answer calls, it would be a lot easier to get and retain firefighters.
Myers said staffing and funding shortages are problems being discussed at the national, state and local levels, but changes seem to occur slowly or not at all.
Channel 11’s news exchange partners at TribLIVE contributed to this report.