At Malvern Fire Company, volunteers needed
It's getting harder to hold on to recruits, according to chief.
"You've got to have that heart," Paul Wilkins said. "It's not easy all the time. It takes a lot of commitment."
Wilkins, Fire Chief of the Malvern Fire Company, has been battling blazes for three decades. These days, it's getting harder to keep recruits, he said.
Sitting at the desk in his office, Wilkins praised the volunteers conducting a weekly training session at the other end of the firehouse. Though he didn't discuss numbers, he made clear that recruiting and retaining volunteers has become much harder over the years. Nearby Paoli Fire Company describes the situation more bluntly on its website, advertising a "desperate need [for] new members."
It takes 160 hours of training to be a firefighter, not to mention the willingness to interrupt your life when duty calls.
Why are recruiting numbers down? There are far more distractions today, Wilkins said, especially for young people. When he first signed up at age 16 — following in familial footsteps, as is often the case with firefighters — volunteering with the local fire company was viewed differently.
"Back in the day, this was the place to hang out," he said.
Wilkins was careful not to imply that the company is undermanned. There are about 40 current members, he said, and about a dozen respond to a typical emergency call.
"We have a good staff, a good crew," he said. "But we could always use more members."
Paoli Fire Company, just down Lancaster Avenue, is also seeing fewer new members. On the company's website, paolifirecompany.org, the message is clear:
"The Paoli Fire Company is in desperate need of new members to join an organization with more than 100 years of dedicated service to protecting the citizens of Tredyffrin, Easttown and Willistown townships," reads the site.
At both fire companies, men and women can join as young as 16 and serve as junior firefighters, assisting with equipment and other duties. At 18, they can become full-fledged members and fight the blazes firsthand.
In addition to the active-duty slots, professional volunteers are needed to handle administration and business operations. A full list of volunteer opportunities and a downloadable application are available at the company's website, malvernfireco.org.
Active duty volunteers — like firefighters, EMTs, drivers, operators, engineers and fire police — should be in relatively good physical health. There's no cost to join — training and equipment are provided.
All the recruits need to provide themselves is a commitment to serving the community … and, of course, heart.
"When everyone else is running out of a burning building, you're running in," Wilkins said.