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Fire companies plan open house to draw more volunteers
Duane Ober and other area fire company leaders were impressed by Mount Joy’s one-day sign-up drive last year, which secured a dozen new recruits.
A year later, there are nine still-active members from that dozen, which provides badly needed relief for Mount Joy’s overburdened firefighters and administrators, and, perhaps most importantly, greater response numbers at emergency calls.
“There’s no denying Mount Joy’s success,” said Ober, director of the Warwick Emergency Services Commission. “And we hope to have similar success this year.”
Ober hopes a Jan. 23 open house, held simultaneously by 12 area fire companies, yields similar results.
On that Saturday, members from the dozen fire companies, including Brickerville, Brunnerville, Rothsville, Lititz, Penryn, and Manheim, will provide hands-on demonstrations for potential members.
Ober said fire companies are facing a “generational’ challenge.
“We have a lot of guys who are in their 50s and older, and then there’s that gap (between 35 and 50),” he said.
While younger members are starting to show an interest, the trick is recruiting a constant flow of recruits in all age ranges.
“It’s almost like a double-edged sword when you get (recruits) young, whether it’s high school or college age,” he said. “You get them trained and skilled, and then they start a family, and then the time kind of slips away from them with children’s activities, which kind of pulls you away from it.”
During this open house, fire companies are seeking firefighters 18 years old and over; junior firefighters, 14 to 18; fire police; technology professionals; support personnel; event planners; and more.
Ober, 43, knows something of the challenge of recruiting and replacing retiring firefighters, having served for 27 years with the Manheim Fire Department.
“We have never done a specific open house recruiting before, but Mount Joy Fire Company did last year and had an awesome response,” he said.
Ober, who last October took over as the full-time WESC administrator, said there was an initial temptation to set up open houses at all 70 fire companies in Lancaster County. But logistic issues such as scheduling staff and time conflicts with other events among the 12 regional fire companies posed an unreasonable challenge.
“Maybe next year,” he said. “We’re thinking if we add only one (recruit) per company, that’s 12 new fireman in one day. Imagine if we added two new recruits each at all 70 (fire companies).”
Ober was born and raised in a fire-fighting family and was an assistant chief for 14 years before serving as chief for four years.
He is the second paid director to head the WESC, which is comprised of the Brickerville, Brunnerville, Lititz and Rothsville fire companies; Brickerville, Rothsville and Warwick ambulances; and Lititz Borough and Warwick and Elizabeth townships. Duane Ober is the full-time administrator for the commission, with his office located at the Warwick Township municipal building on Clay Road.
One of his greatest challenges is to bolster the ranks of those institutions.
The breakdown of local fire company volunteers are Brickerville, with about 25 active firefighters; Brunnerville, about 20 active firefighters; Lititz, around 20 active firefighters; and Rothsville, with approximately 25 active firefighters.
“Each of these companies have additional volunteer guys, but these are the numbers of the ‘active’ firefighters,” he said.
Ober explained that active firefighters are defined as those who consistently respond to fire calls when available.
It “doesn’t mean they average 20 to 25 volunteers per call,” he noted. “It only means this is the pool of active members who might be responding.
He noted that previous monthly reports show that the fire companies average between eight and 12 volunteers per call.
Dan Zimmerman, Warwick Township manager, noted that it is essential to continue to “attract younger volunteers to sustain this very important contribution to the community.”
“The township has been working on a number of ways we can support the emergency response volunteers,” he said.
He praised Ober’s job, which Zimmerman described as “to support the volunteers and assist in recruitment” along with many other functions and tasks.
“We must find a way to replace the group of older volunteers who have provided years of volunteer service,” he said. “Every community faces this challenge, we want to be fully committed to supporting the volunteers and sustaining the volunteer system.
Chief David Steffen of the Northern Lancaster County Regional Police echoed Zimmerman’s sentiments.
He noted that recruitment and retention of volunteers has declined across many public service based organizations.
“The critical need for new volunteers in fire departments is both real and in many cases growing,” he said.
“New techniques and measures for recruitment is necessary to meet the staffing demands of the future,” Steffen said.
While selection and retention of qualified personnel is especially vital for public safety organizations, demands on recruits have escalated with “many requirements from a physical, psychological, and background perspective,” Steffen said.
“Staffing is made more difficult when all of these factors come into play,” he noted. “The public should understand that there is a large commitment of time, energy, and funding expended in the training of volunteers, and the key to future success is the ongoing retention of the volunteer for use as needed.”
“This is why the Warwick Emergency Services Commission was created over 10 years ago,” Zimmerman said.
Steffen praised Ober’s commitment, experience and knowledge to understand what’s necessary to accomplish the goals of the WESC.
“Duane Ober has a daunting task in the coordination of emergency services, and has proven himself to be a valuable team player on both the planning and operational level for high quality public safety response outcomes,” Steffen said. “To be honest, I don’t know how we ever got along without him.”
Patrick Burns is a staff writer and social media editor for the Lititz Record Express. He welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at email@example.com or at 721-4455.
About Patrick Burns
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