Fire departments offer live-in incentives to staff stations
Volunteer fire department officials know that having the latest equipment at their disposal doesn’t mean much without enough people on hand to respond to emergencies.
A lack of manpower to answer calls can be especially acute during the day, when many volunteer firefighters are working their regular jobs, fire chiefs say.
To address those needs, some companies offer firefighters a place to live in exchange for serving with their departments.
Penn Hills Fire Station 221 on Mt. Carmel Road has had a live-in program since 2010. There currently is an opening for a live-in candidate posted on its website offering rent-free living, a workout facility, a computer station, wireless internet, a laundry area and a full kitchen.
“It makes a big difference having guys there at all times of day,” said Chief Shawn Snyder.
With seven live-in volunteers, the department enjoys swift response times.
“We went from sometimes taking 10 minutes, to being on the road in two or three minutes,” Snyder. said ”It’s a benefit to both the department and the community, because at any given time, there’s at least two or three people at the station to get rolling right away.”
Penn 7 Volunteer Fire Department on Universal Road is in the process of adding four dorm-style bedrooms for firefighters to live in at a building it purchased for $500,000 in August next to the station. The property includes a small church, White Hawk Social Club, a lawyer office and the Penn Hills magistrate office, which will continue as tenants. With 100 percent occupancy at the property, Chief Bill Jeffcoat said the station will be able to break even in five to seven years.
“We put off buying a vehicle that was due for replacement because our general membership believes in the value of the live-in program so much,” Jeffcoat said. “We rolled the dice.”
He described turning to the live-in program as a “gamble,” but he’s confident that with the almost 750 calls a year, bringing manpower to the station is a “good trade-off.”
The dormitory area will be equipped with two beds per room, a study, a full kitchen and separate bathrooms for men and women.
“This isn’t a homeless shelter. We’re grooming and setting up these firefighters for success in the future. The live-in program is just one added way we can recruit and retain candidates,” Jeffcoat said.
In Monroeville, the live-in program has been in the community for the past several decades, said Chief Scott Beltz of Monroeville Fire Company 1.
Beltz has been a member since 1991 and started out as a live-in volunteer when he was 18.
“It’s a win-win. They learn a lot; we learn a lot and build family from all over the place,” Beltz said, adding that he’s brought in guys from Boston, parts of Illinois and Ohio.
Similar to Penn Hills 227, the Monroeville station is open to college students, but Beltz makes it known that he’s “not running a frat house.”
The live-ins are responsible for chores, including cleaning the station.
“It builds character and independence. You gain general knowledge of doing what you do,” Beltz said.
Currently, there are five live-ins at the station, which has the capacity for eight. By the spring, the station will have finished renovations to accommodate 12 firefighters.
For Beltz, a safety net of strength in numbers means that his guys can get to calls faster and help other stations in the community if need be.
“When there’s people in the fire station, the trucks are out quicker, and when there are live-ins that happen to be there at odd times, it’s great because we can give additional staffing to other stations in the community from our own neighborhood,” Beltz said.
Samson X Horne is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-871-2325 or email@example.com.