Seeking volunteer firefighters in northeast Pennsylvania

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(WBRE/WYOU) — They’re the people we call when we’re in trouble and right now there aren’t enough of them in northeastern Pennsylvania.

We’re talking about volunteer firefighters. Their numbers are dwindling and stations all over the region are suffering from the lack of help. The idea of being a firefighter can seem intimidating but that’s not the only reason volunteer firefighter numbers are dropping.

Thankfully as they always seem to do, some our local firefighters already have a solution they’re hoping to put into play sooner rather than later. It’s not an easy job and it’s not for everyone. Something that’s being proven every day by the dwindling number of volunteer firefighters across northeastern Pennsylvania.

“The average age of a firefighter in Schuylkill County is 40 years old,” Michael Zangari of Rangers Hose Company said.

Zangari and many of his peers in the fire service want to see that number go down. They think one of the main reasons why people aren’t volunteering is training.

“A lot of hours in training. People just don’t have the time anymore,” Whitney Perna of McAdoo Fire Company said.

188 hours at least, including first aid, CPR, AED, Narcan certification, hazmat awareness and operations level and structural burn class or live fire training. All of that before you can set foot in a firetruck.

Thanks to the initiative of some local fire chiefs, Zangari’s wish might come true for teens in the Hazleton Area School District.

“We kinda discussed about potentially bringing a fire science class to the career center here in Hazleton,” Kostican said.

The program would give Hazleton Area students a chance to do their firefighting training through school and for local fire departments. It’s a win-win situation for students and fire companies. But perhaps the biggest win of all would be for the community.

Chief Kostican says he and other fire chiefs will meet with the chamber of commerce about adding the fire science class later this month.

According to a report published by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) in March of 2019, the number of volunteer firefighters have dropped dramatically over the years. In 2017, there were 682,600 volunteer firefighters in the country, down significantly from 729,000 the year before. Meanwhile, the age of volunteer firefighters has increased. In 2017, over 50 percent of them were over the age of 40.

Pennsylvania is exceptionally hard hit with this decline as 96.8 percent of the commonwealth’s nearly 1800 fire departments are registered as either completely volunteer or mostly volunteer. That’s the third highest percentage in the country behind just Delaware and Minnesota, according to data from the U.S. Fire Administration.

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