HAZLE TOWNSHIP, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — “The more we incorporate buttons and you know, things that don’t really take skill to the fire service, that art of fighting fires is lost,” Michael Zangari, Lieutenant with the Girardville Rangers Hose Company, said.
In the 1980s, there were about 300,000 volunteer firefighters in Pennsylvania. In 2018 the number fell to 38,000. One of the reasons for this decline could be the rise of the digital age. Young potential recruits have an incredible amount of technology at their hands, but “the work ethic you can see isn’t what it was and that really, really hurts the fire service,” said Hazle Township Fire Chief Scott Kostican.
Zangari started volunteering as a firefighter at the age of 14, which he says is common. But with the world at their fingertips, kids need for instant gratification which can mean that kids don’t have the patience or attention span to go through training.
“My generation does not work well with the same thing over and over and over. They get bored, that’s it and they quit and they’re on to the next thing. So the fire service is ever-changing. You just have to include it,” Zangari said.
But the same thing that is hurting recruitment can also be used to save it.
“You gotta, you know you gotta have a really good Facebook page or a really good Instagram and people follow it because it’s action-packed and you try and make it where they’re like ‘wow I’m curious and I wanna know’,” Zangari said.
Zangari says some volunteer fire companies even include incentives to keep kids motivated.
“You respond to 50 percent of your calls every year, you get a $25 gift card. It’s $25 but it’s a goal for them. It’s a short-term goal that they can meet and in some places it really works,” Zangari said.
Some of the training is even being changed to being online. Kostican says his station even tried to create an online recruitment video but it fell through.
“It was a very good video. We had a lot of good things, a lot of emergency scenes that were involved in the incidents that they were able to see what it’s all about,” Kostican said.
Kostican says most volunteer fire stations still recruit through the word of mouth. For more information, click here.