Submitted by David M. Pryzbysz, Assistant Chief
As you sit there, reading this article, take a look around you.
Think about your home.
Look at all the decorations and knickknacks that hang on your walls and fill your shelves. Think of all the family memories that have been created there. How many holiday meals were prepared in that kitchen? How many celebrations were held in that backyard?
Our homes are our safe havens. They directly reflect who we are. We paint them in colors that we like. We decorate them with our own personal style. We feel comfortable there. There truly is no place like home.
So, what if your home catches fire?
Suddenly all those memories, all those cherished keepsakes, everything you worked for your entire life is in danger of being destroyed.
What do you do?
Our hope is that you evacuate quickly, call 911 as soon as possible, and wait for the Fire Department to arrive.
But how long should that wait be? Five minutes? Fifteen? What is an acceptable amount of time, given where you live, for the Fire Department to respond to your home?
You would be correct to assume that adequately trained and qualified firefighters are going to arrive in a timely manner and that they are going to effectively save your property and loved ones.
In the world of Volunteer Fire Departments, that is our goal but, it is important to know that it is not necessarily guaranteed.
I am proud to tell you that here in Chippewa Township, we currently have 31 members.
In a time when volunteerism is declining in the fire service nationwide, it is good to know that our community is stepping up!
These members are all trained to various levels. Some members are still on probationary status while others have years of experience and carry multiple state or national certifications.
Several are also trained as emergency medical responders (EMRs), emergency medical technicians (EMTs), or paramedics.
We train diligently in all aspects of firefighting, rescue, and emergency medical response.
We encourage our members to acquire state certifications whenever they can, and we work well with our neighboring community Fire Departments.
Our department participates in numerous community activities, and we hold many fundraisers to help offset the rising costs of fire protection.
This all looks great in print, and we truly are blessed here in Chippewa, but the one thing to remember is that we are all volunteers.
Each and every one of our members have obligations outside the fire service.
There is no one staffing our station, nobody working shifts just waiting for a fire call to come in. We are at home or at work. Maybe we are in bed or out to dinner.
All our members have jobs. Some are single parents while in other households both parents need to work.
The fact is that fire and medical responses vary depending on the time and day of the week.
While there have been times that we have responded to calls with plenty of members and several pieces of apparatus, there have also been times when we have responded with only a few and only one truck.
This is an issue that Volunteer Fire Departments across the country have been struggling with for years and it is a fight that is getting harder to win.
I am proud of our members and their dedication.
It is not easy to get up for a 3:00 a.m. fire call knowing you have to be at work at 7:00 a.m. It is difficult to leave the family gathering fifteen minutes after you arrived because the pager goes off. These men and women often do just that but, sometimes they just simply are not available.
While we continue to do the best we can right now, we must look towards the future. We must find a way to guarantee a qualified, timely, fire or medical response for years to come and do so in a cost-effective manner.
Volunteer Fire Departments save their communities hundreds of thousands of dollars each year and are highly dependent on community involvement and support.
So, what if there was a fire and nobody showed up?
If we are not available, then who?
We rely heavily on assistance from our mutual aid departments, and they rely heavily on us but, this method is becoming non-sustainable. Pulling in other departments for our emergencies puts their communities at risk and the same happens for us when we respond elsewhere.
That is why, even at the smallest fires, you will often see several fire apparatuses from multiple departments. It is what we have to do to try to get enough manpower on scene.
There is already an emergency medical response crisis in this country. It seems unrealistic, but if you or someone you know were to have a medical emergency right now, it is very possible that the closest ambulance could be 20 minutes away.
It does not matter if you have a membership to a certain service or not. The ambulance services are overwhelmed and short staffed, and they’re doing the best that they can.
The fire department would like to help.
We would like to be able to respond quicker to initiate some sort of treatment until the ambulance can arrive, but we can only do that if and when our members are available.
So, what is the answer? Quite frankly, we do not know.
More volunteers could help but, whether you have thirty members or fifty, if a fire breaks out or a medical call drops when they are not available, what good does it do?
All Fire Departments, not just ours, are dealing with things like this and we all are looking for the answers. It is a difficult task and trying to find a solution that is viable for all communities involved has proved daunting. There are questions that we do not have answers for. There are financial concerns. What works for one may not work for another but, we must keep trying.
Every time that we answer a fire call with less than adequate staffing, we are putting not only the victims, but our own firefighters at risk.
The carnivals and parades and countless other social events that we attend are great for camaraderie and keeping us in touch with our residents, but public safety is our number one concern.
Our Township Management also recognizes the need to provide quality emergency service to our residents and are doing their part to help us ensure that we are able to continue to do so for years to come.
The Township has initiated a feasibility study for Chippewa and the surrounding areas through the PA Department of Community and Economic Development.
It is our hope that this study will help reveal some avenues that we can take to improve our emergency response in a way that benefits our Fire Department, our residents, and those in surrounding communities that depend on our services in a comprehensive and cost-effective manner.
We must be proactive! This is not an issue that will just go away, it is a problem that we want to solve before it too becomes a crisis. Whatever steps are taken in the future, your volunteers are going to be a vital component.
We do not know what comes next. We do not know what the fire department of the future will look like or what the additional costs, if any, may be, but we do know that some way, somehow, we will be there for you!
Our community has been incredibly supportive, and it is our mission to continue to be there and able to respond when you need us most.