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Volunteer fire companies need public support to escape extinction <br><br> <br><br> <AUTHOR> Pa...

| Thursday, May 10, 2001

If volunteer fire companies fail to receive the public's continued support for fund drives, fund-raisers and good old-fashioned volunteerism, then the fire companies will become just a fond memory.

But if the public continues to contribute as in the past, then the volunteer fire companies can continue to serve their communities and improve service.

For many of you who are aware of the crisis that volunteer fire companies are facing across the country, this 'if, but and then' statement will serve as a reminder. But if you aren't aware of the issues facing communities in regard to fire protection, then read on.

For several years, funding, recruitment and retention of volunteers for volunteer fire companies have been declining across the country while emergency calls and expenses have skyrocketed.

The reasons for this decline are numerous. Social and economic trends, changes in the availability of jobs in hometowns and insufficient time available for volunteer work are a few of the issues that have been cited as factors in the ever-declining number of active volunteers and in funding.

For too long, fire companies have attempted to be independent organizations relying solely on donated funds and services. The downward spiral seems to be consuming everything in its path and without action by the public. It is unlikely that it will level out.

Recently, there have been attempts by local, state and federal government representatives to render aid. A trickle of funding has been earmarked for the volunteer fire companies, but the competition for these grants is great. One example is a grant the federal government made available. The application process is complicated, and it is estimated that 15,000 companies - volunteer and paid - will compete for only 2,000 grants. Even companies that are successful in gaining grants must match the federal grant with a minimum of 10 percent matching funds.

Pennsylvania, almost totally dependent on volunteer firefighters, is realizing the tremendous burden and expense of protecting our residents if the volunteers would be eliminated. Lawmakers have begun to make funding available, but it takes time and almost is totally dependent on the whim of governing officials.

After much effort on the part of Elizabeth Township firefighters and Elizabeth Township commissioners, some funding should become available in the fall.

The amount of funding being discussed is not even half of the amount required to keep the fire companies operating at status quo. And more importantly, the funding is budgeted for only one year.

Before any of the money is disbursed, an advisory board must be appointed, guidelines set up, accounts put in place and procedures and protocols adopted.

Are volunteer fire companies going to fade away because of the lack of funds and volunteers•

If the volunteers do not have our continued support at the community level - fund-raisers, fund drives and volunteer workers - then the answer is yes.

But if you and I continue to give our talents and funding, then volunteer fire companies will survive.

IF we continue the support and if the local, state and federal assistance comes through, most volunteer fire companies will survive but just on a shoestring.

Volunteer fire companies are truly in crisis, and it is imperative that they receive the continued support from people at the local level.

If we all contribute in some way, then we can continue to receive the most economical and first-class fire protection available.

But if we choose not to contribute, either by volunteering or supporting the fund-raising efforts in our communities, then the volunteer fire companies will simply continue to decline in membership and resources until one day they are just a fond memory.

Do not let your local volunteer fire company become a victim of the 'if-but-then' cycle.

I hope we never have to say: 'Remember when the alarms went off and the firefighters came rushing to the rescue• If only I'd have helped out in some way, maybe then we'd still have volunteers but I didn't have the spare time or money.'

The writer is secretary of the Elizabeth Township Fire Fighters Association

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