Blazing a new trail From D.C. to Lititz, his journey is not complete

By on January 23, 2014

You can take him out of the firehouse, but you can’t take the fire out of Larry Schultz.

The 52-year-old former operations chief of the Washington, D.C. Fire Department enters the year as the first full-time coordinator of the Warwick Emergency Services Commission, WESC.

Schultz, who is paid $65,000 annually, took over what had been a part-time position in the formerly-named Warwick Emergency Services Alliance, WESA.

The name change to WESC, shifting from an alliance to a commission, is reflective of a more formal governing body instead of being a fire department-based entity, he said.

“I think the townships and the borough made it more formal, where they are more involved in the decision making process,” Schultz said.

WESC is made up of four volunteer fire companies in Lititz, Rothsville, Brickerville and Brunnerville; Brickerville and Rothsville VFC Ambulance, and Warwick Community Ambulance.

The shift creates an arrangement that provides a more unified identity without fire companies giving up their “current individual identity,” Schultz said.

At the same time he points out that the “new branding kind of says it’s a new time, it’s a forward journey.”

But Schultz admits that the journey is still a work in progress and its future has not been identified yet.

One of his most pressing duties is to coordinate volunteer workers with career emergency services employees.

But that is kind of a natural for Schultz since he’s worn both hats for so long as a volunteer and professional fireman.

Being a volunteer firefighter is in his blood ­he followed his father and bother to serve for the fire company in Prince George County, Md., the largest combination of volunteer and career firefighters in the country.

“It’s 50 percent career and 50 percent volunteer,” Schultz said.

His career with the D.C. fire company ended when he landed with the newly established Department of Homeland Security soon after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

He has more than 30 years experience as a firefighter, and he most recently operated a successful fire safety instruction company before coming to this area last year.

But he never entirely left his volunteer fire-fighting roots.

“I retired from Washington, D.C. at 4 in the afternoon, and by 5 I was in the volunteer firehouse doing a shift,” Schultz said.

His experience in acquiring state and federal funds – landing close to $14 million is grants in Washington, D.C. – didn’t hurt his job prospects.

Though the alliance was successful in acquiring grants, he noted that perpetual increases for equipment, insurance, training and other costs requires precise management of EMS funding.

“There’s no doubt that we’ll continue to be aggressive,” he said. “There’s no doubt we’re going to be successful at getting them.”

“The problem again comes to spending the money wisely and making sure what you’re getting the support for is actually moving us toward the future,” he added.

Schultz noted that volunteer fire companies have a history of relying on cooperation from local businesses who “when the sirens rang in the ‘70s and ‘80s excused their employees who’d go and get the fire truck out.”

But with changing times, there’s a prevalence of bigger corporations doing business in communities who’ve not necessarily been exposed to a volunteer system.

“When (corporations) are asked about it, there’s often a first reaction, ‘That’s nothing we’ve done; there’s liability. If I let one employee do it, do I let 10 employees?” Schultz said.

He noted that there are some corporations in the area that continue to provide support and allow employees to leave in the “middle of the day when the siren blows.”

“And that’s just amazing,” he said. “But it’s far and few between. So one of the things I’ll be doing is trying to get out and solicit the help of the businesses, and not just with firemen.”

He explained that fire departments have other needs, and corporations can help support the local firehouse by … “maybe with (supplying) an IT person, or maybe with a fundraiser, or in-kind services.”

“The protection to quality of life and fire protection in the community isn’t just the fire department’s responsibility. That’s everybody’s fight in the community,” Schultz said.

Randy Gockley, Lancaster County’s emergency management coordinator, said Schultz’s experience will help strengthen support for firefighters and bring uniformity to the EMS agencies.

He noted that the move somewhat follows a trend in which EMS units are made up of partial career staff. He pointed out that Blue Rock Fire Company, a merger between Millersville and Manor Township, has a career fire commissioner.

“Manheim Township has a career chief and deputy chief,” Gockley said. “But I’m not sure I’d say the shift to career staff is inevitable (in Lancaster County) yet.”

Ron Oettel, Lititz Fire Chief, said that Schultz’s experience can’t be understated considering the challenges facing community EMS volunteers these days.

“The volunteer fire service has been challenged over the past couple of decades all throughout the nation,” he said. “It’s worse in some places than others. We’re just at a point where we’re starting to see more effects of not having as many people come out and volunteer.”

He said one of the biggest challenges facing volunteer fire chiefs and other administrators is finding the “time and persistence to stay on these big issues.”

“A lot of the impetus to hire (and pay) Schultz is to let him focus on these bigger issues that we generally refer to as recruitment and retention and funding issues,” Oettel said, adding that the public’s response to Lititz’s fundraising campaign went from 5 to just 3 percent.

Dan Zimmerman, Warwick Township manager, underscored Schultz’s pedigree and experience “in all aspects emergency services, including administration and education.”

“Our ultimate goal is to help our local emergency services organizations remain viable and vibrant as they face all the same logistical challenges volunteers face throughout our area and across the country,” Zimmerman said.

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