Campaign for heroes WESA grant aids in volunteer recruitment
By: MICHELLE REIFF Record Express Staff, Staff Writer
They dash through smoke-filled, blazing buildings to save lives and extinguish flames. They rush to the scene of a vehicle accident at any hour of day or night, never sure what they will see or what the outcome will be.
Although these brave heroes have become a necessary force, the number of emergency service volunteers is dwindling. Firefighting and ambulance services in the Lititz area are predominantly volunteer-based; therefore, there is a critical need to vigorously recruit and retain volunteers … now more than ever.
Recognizing this need, earlier this year Warwick Emergency Services Alliance (WESA) applied for and received a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant of $63,400 to be invested over four years. The organizations which comprise WESA are: Lititz, Rothsville, Brunnerville and Brickerville fire companies and Warwick, Rothsville and Brunnerville ambulances.
According to Dan Zimmerman, Warwick Township manager, the association will use the grant money, coupled with a Hometown Heroes theme, to fulfill two primary objectives. WESA will call attention to both the need for volunteers and the need to support the fund-raising campaign. This will consist of a long-term advertising and public relations campaign showcasing current volunteers and their importance to the community.
"The recruitment of volunteers will include active firefighters, EMTs and someone who is retired, someone who has limited time but could still be very important," said Zimmerman.
Zimmerman feels that some people have the misconception that if they are in their 60s they can’t be volunteers. The fact is, that even a once a month slot for things like logistic services and computer entry would be helpful.
"You can be a hometown hero but not in a fire suit," Zimmerman added.
Future plans for the campaign include a recruitment brochure, newspaper, Facebook page and Twitter account, new member mentoring programs, lawn signs for placement at volunteer homes and presentations to area service clubs.
The organization is currently in the first stage of the plan, which is preparing the advertisements for a number of different media — TV, radio, billboard and banners. The ads will be using actual people, according to Zimmerman, and telling a real life story that may be familiar to viewers, showing them that they too may be able to help in some way.
"People will recognize possibly their neighbors," he said. "They have kids, they’re doing soccer, are active participants in their community."
The township manager added that group is spreading the campaign out over four years for the simple reason of making it sustainable.
Dave Kramer, a Warwick Township Board supervisor, is using his background in marketing as a key player in moving forward with this plan.
"It’s a wonderful opportunity for the community," said Kramer. "Volunteerism unfortunately is down. There are so many other things… school, work. There are more and more things to do and fewer people to do them."
Kramer feels that local emergency services served the community well during the hurricane and flood that ravaged the area in late summer/early fall, but that there is still a need for more assistance.
"I think we were well prepared, but the idea is to get enough recruits before it becomes a crisis," he said.
Still mourning the recent death of one of its most prominent volunteer firefighters, the local community may wonder, are the Ed Steffys of this world a thing of the past, or do others have the capability and desire of continuing in his footsteps,,, serving in that realm of local heroism?
Although many will agree that no one will replace the dedication set by this citizen, there are some that are on their way to following his example.
Gordon Young is a trained interior firefighter, vehicle rescue technician and vice president of the business segment of the fire company. The vice president of GemChem in Lititz not only finds the time in his schedule to volunteer, but comes from a family who has donated much of their time to the cause.
"My grandfather (Claude) was the first individual that got involved in the 50s and then he was the chief for 23 years," said Young.
Young added that his uncle (Sam) took over as the chief 23 years ago, and his oldest brother (Greg) is the assistant chief. He also has aunts and uncles who are volunteers.
Young mentioned that many of his other family members became volunteers at a younger age. He decided to join them as a commitment to them as well as others around him.
"I felt I had the ability to give back to my community," he said. "It’s rewarding when you’re helping your community members in their time of need."
The firefighter feels that the dwindling of volunteers is a nationwide problem, not just one that is affecting the local community, not only because of the time commitment but partly because there is no monetary compensation. He is hopeful that this grant will help bring in some new faces.
"Anytime you can get more volunteers involved the better off you’ll be because you have more potential people to respond to various incidents," said Young. "Obviously not everyone can respond to everything."
Ken Kline fought fires and acted as chief with Brunnerville Fire Company for years. Now retired, he is an example of how one can still be involved even if it is not actively fighting fires.
"There is always something that people can do," he said. Now president, he has various administrative duties, including participating in fund drives and applying for grants.
Acknowledging that there is a good amount of training involved in becoming a firefighter, Kline realizes that there are more families where husband and wife are both working. He too feels money might be part of the issue.
"We pay for all the gear and training," said Kline, who would like to see the grant help fire companies become once again more of a center to the community. "The idea is that you’re servicing the community. We just need to get the word out."
Frank Kenavan, executive director of the Warwick Community Ambulance Association, elaborated on the fact that volunteer opportunities exist in all facets of emergency services.
"There are other things that can be done to free those who are trained to not get caught up in the computer side of things," he noted. "They do need providers, but if you could free some of the administrative duties then they would have more time to respond to the emergencies."
One area of need which involves minimal training in CPR and first aid is for para-transit workers, those who take people from nursing homes to their doctor appointments. Kenavan also stated that a class is usually held at the beginning of each year for all potential volunteers in his organization, usually running two nights a week for a month and a half.
Kenavan has seen many volunteers grow and move up in his organization, some spanning nearly 40 years of service.
What really impressed him during the flood of Tropical Storm Lee was how well paid staff and volunteers worked together. He feels that although the mix allows the community to fulfill it’s need, the shortage of volunteers is something to be taken seriously.
"Volunteerism has dwindled to the point that we had to bring more career staff in," he said. "Payroll is our highest expense."
Look for regular features on local emergency service volunteers in upcoming issues of the Record Express. In the meantime, anyone interested in volunteering for WESA may call 626-8900 or visit warwicktownship.org. More VOLUNTEERS, page A3