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Greensburg VFD burns to sign up new members

Tribune-Review
| Thursday, November 13, 2014 6:21 p.m.

The ranks are getting thinner at the Greensburg Volunteer Fire Department, which is pondering new recruitment tactics to bolster its dwindling roster.

Firefighter and city Councilman Randy Finfrock used to maintain the list of department members.

Three years ago, the department had about 327 firefighters, he said. Now it is down to 287.

“I knew that the department was declining, but I didn’t know we were losing members in that short a period of time,” he said. “It’s getting to the point that we’re reaching critical mass on the number of members that we have.”

Only about 100 of those on the roster are active members.

The median age of a Greensburg firefighter is 62, according to Deputy Chief Kim Houser.

This echoes changes seen throughout the state and the nation. Pennsylvania had 300,000 volunteer firefighters in 1976, now it has about 50,000, according to information from Pennsylvania Fire Commissioner Ed Mann.

“We’ve tried everything,” said Greensburg Fire Chief Ed Hutchinson.

There are many reasons for the decline, Hutchinson said. “Volunteerism is going down the sewer.”

The population of young people is smaller than it was after the baby boom, and today’s young people have less free time and more options on how to spend it, Houser said.

“The young folks who stay and eke out a living in our community are finding they don’t have extra time to provide volunteer time to the community,” he said.

The rigorous training required by law places even more stringent demands on firefighters’ time, Hutchinson said.

“The training today they expect you to do is the same as a professional,” he said.

The biggest need is for truck drivers. The department usually has enough members throughout the city to respond to calls, but getting the trucks and equipment where they need to be has been a problem, Hutchinson said.

“Our biggest trouble is drivers. If we can get the trucks there, we’re scattered all over the city, we’re pretty good there on guys,” he said.

If recruitment efforts continue to be unsuccessful, the city may have to consider hiring a driver, Hutchinson said.

The department has tried several tactics to boost its ranks, so far with little result. It has promoted the incentives offered to its members, like the community college scholarships available. It holds regular community days throughout the city to raise awareness. It has offered public-administration internships to college students, with little interest.

The next tactic, Houser said, might be appealing to ex-military members, Houser said.

“We’re trying to figure out ways to go knock on their door and say, ‘Hey, we have a place for you,’” he said.

The department needs to do more to encourage women and minorities to join, Finfrock said.

He said the department should look for ways to reduce the time commitment required of new recruits.

“It needs to realize that you can’t make all these demands on an individual’s time that they have in the past,” he said.

Despite the difficulties, Houser said he is hopeful for the long-term future of the department.

“I think the future is bright,” he said. “The community will step up to the plate.”

Jacob Tierney is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-6646 or jtierney@tribweb.com.

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