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Wanted: Volunteers

| Monday, May 14, 2012, 11:38 a.m.

The sign on the front of the Manor Volunteer Fire Department makes it plain: It needs volunteers.

Assistant Fire Chief Bill Fink remembers when the department turned away people who wanted to volunteer.

'I don't see that ever happening again,' he said.

The shortage of volunteers is a statewide problem.

'I guess all fire departments are looking for help. There's a shortage of help all across Pennsylvania,' he said. 'It's just a trend. It seems like nobody wants to get involved anymore.'

When Fink first volunteered with the department in 1951, members totaled 60. It was the maximum amount the department allowed.

Now, members total in the 20s.

On Wednesday, the department assisted Harrison City's VFD with a transformer fire on Route 130. When the fire alarm blew, only six members showed up for the call.

It's not that members ignored the call: It's because most people work daylight shift and can't get out of work.

In the past, when area factories hummed 24 hours a day, volunteer firefighters were able to take the different shifts, allowing the fire department to count on them during daylight hours.

'Years ago, when work was real, real good, you had men on first, second and third shift,' Fink said.

'(Now a) majority of people work first shift. It just seems that some departments are lucky, they have people who work in town to answer the alarm.'

But that's not the norm.

Serving as a volunteer firefighter is not all about battling blazes. It also involves fund raising.

Irwin Fire Chief Keith Gray recently estimated that 90 percent of the time spent volunteering is fund raising. It is tiring and a monotonous part of the job.

'It's just a statewide problem, the fund-raising problem,' Fink said. 'You used to just go out and put the fire out and that was it.'

Volunteer fire department always had to fund-raise, but it wasn't as extensive as it is today.

Manor's VFD will hold its 82nd Labor Day celebration this year, so the department has been raising funds for at least that long.

The reason: The cost of the equipment is enormous.

Each person going into a fire is armed with the basic fire resistant suit, helmet and respirator. Of course, everything has to be in tiptop shape. And there are countless other devices to protect the firefighter that some companies just can't afford, like thermal imaging devices.

And then there's the vehicles. Irwin VFD is currently in need of a new ladder truck. The estimated cost is upwards of $200,000.

Learning how to use the equipment has also changed.

Training is much more intense than when Fink started in the '50s. This sometimes turns off prospected volunteers, he said.

But the equipment is useless without bodies to fill the gloves and drive the trucks.

Companies also cannot afford to run out of men and women. That is why the huge sign in front of Manor's VFD shouts that it needs volunteers.

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