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Fire department uses Internet to recruit

| Friday, May 4, 2012, 8:02 a.m.

A Hempfield Township fire department has developed a Web site designed to attract more volunteer firefighters.

"This is the new technology, and we want to use it to our advantage," said Don Thoma, chief of the Adamsburg and Community Volunteer Fire Department, which developed the site

Backed by the guitar riffs of Godsmack's rock anthem "Awake," the Web site invites visitors to move through links if they "think they can handle it" as photos of rescues and firefighting scenes are flashed.

The department hopes to entice volunteers by offering information about joining one of the 12 Hempfield fire companies or Rescue 14 EMS Inc. using the Internet.

The site features specific information about the incidents firefighters respond to in addition to fires, such as hazardous spills, building collapses, vehicle accidents, confined-space emergencies, rope rescues and water situations.

"If you want to read about air masks, it will be there. Whatever your interest, you can click and view a 30- to 50-second commercial," he said.

Some township departments do not have Web sites, but people interested in those departments could inquire about them through the Adamsburg site.

"This is not just for kids, but for anyone who's interested in firefighting. Folks can view it at their leisure," Thoma said.

Recruitment of new members is a continuing struggle for many volunteer fire companies.

A report released last year by the Pennsylvania Legislative Budget and Finance Committee on the problems and challenges facing volunteer fire companies noted that the state's 2,354 volunteer companies have seen a 76 percent dip in membership since 1976. Reasons cited for the decline include stringent training requirements for volunteer firefighters, the ever-increasing number of hours that must be dedicated to fundraising activities, and the longer distances people must travel to get to their jobs.

Grapeville fire Chief Dan Nescot said the Web site offers the potential to attract more volunteers. His department has 22 active members but only about 12 he can count on to serve.

"It's an excellent, excellent idea, not just for Adamsburg, but for all of Hempfield Township. It's an excellent tool," he said. "It's a good way to reach all people. We have to find ways to boost our membership. There is a real need."

Thoma said the Web site will be far-reaching and eventually could link to all Westmoreland County fire departments.

That's good news to Trafford fire Chief Kevin Beam, who is looking for ways to boost his 16-member squad.

"I would definitely be interested in the Web site, because we don't have one. Our membership is pretty low, and we need to find more ways to get people to join," he said.

The Web site will not eliminate in-person recruitment projects, Thoma said, but help fuel them.

This spring, a recruitment program at West Hempfield Middle School attracted 33 students -- 19 girls and 14 boys. A letter will be sent out to parents notifying them of an orientation program in the next month or so.

Kids as young as 14 can join as junior members. They become senior members after age 18.

Firefighters plan to recruit at Hempfield Area Senior High School and all four middle schools this fall.

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