It takes all kinds of heroes You don’t have to fight fires to help

By on April 11, 2012

By: JOHN CRAWFORD Record Express Correspondent, Staff Writer

Is this the next generation of hometown heroes? These John Beck Elementary School students enjoyed a visit from volunteer firefighters during Fire Safety Week last fall.

The Warwick Emergency Services Alliance (WESA) has kicked off a multi-year advertising campaign called Hometown Heroes, designed to honor and strengthen the volunteers providing fire and EMT services to Lititz and the surrounding area. The program also highlights local needs in manpower and funding.

Created in 2001, WESA is a partnership of local government and volunteer emergency service providers dedicated to the continued support and success of the volunteer community for the region it represents, as stated on the Warwick Township website. The participating volunteer fire and ambulance companies include Lititz, Rothsville, Brunnerville and Brickerville fire companies; and Warwick, Rothsville and Brickerville ambulances.

The need for more volunteers and more funding from the public is nothing new, but this new campaign to bring more attention to the situation is.

"We had just done a strategic plan about two years ago," explained Warwick Township manager Dan Zimmerman. "One of the initiatives coming out of the strategic plan was to beef up the volunteer corps base. They are aging, like many volunteer groups right now. The decision was made to do an all-out campaign to make people aware of what these men and women are doing and the need for others to step up if we’re going to continue the volunteer emergency services system."

The need for volunteers is not limited to responders and includes logistical and clerical support personnel.

"There are many types of hometown heroes," Zimmerman added. "Not just the ones out in the field, but the ones in the back. We obviously need firefighters and people willing to be EMTs for the ambulances. The second type of volunteer is logistic support people. A lot of people say ‘I can’t be a firefighter, I’m 60 years old.’ The organizations need help in data entry, mechanical, accounting and capital fund campaigns. They need a number of roles that people can play. You don’t have to be on a fire truck and ambulance to play a major role.

"What is happening is that the reporting the chiefs have to do continues to increase. The insurance industry, the state, all require more paperwork, which distracts these guys from their primary job. Help in that logistic part would be helpful."

While the current volunteer corps is healthy in numbers, the average age is increasing and WESA is attempting to add members to prevent critical shortages in the near future.

"This area has been blessed because we have a very good core group, but what we realize is that if we don’t make significant changes in the next five years, then we’re not going to be as good," explained Zimmerman. "We’re trying to be proactive here. If we don’t start getting new blood, younger people involved, then we’re going to see problems in the future. We’re trying to take steps now and not wait until the future and avoid having the problem in five or 10 years."

The Hometown Heroes campaign will also stress the need for contributions to sustain the volunteer system. While local governments help, the fire and ambulance companies are self-sustaining and need the financial assistance of the people they serve.

"Because of the economic conditions, every volunteer base has seen their contributions fall," said Zimmerman. "I think on average it’s been anywhere from 10 to 20 percent less. These volunteer groups are dependent on a capital campaign. The need is for people who see the capital campaign to not just throw it away. That’s another way to become a hometown hero. If you can’t volunteer, at least contribute."

Funding for the program came from $68,000 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) with the goal of sustaining the program for four years. WESA will need to report back the results to FEMA so they can judge the effectiveness of recruitment and fundraising campaigns.

"A successful campaign would be we bring in both types of volunteers," said Zimmerman. "I would love to see each of the companies get a core group of dedicated volunteers who perform that logistical support system that would support the chiefs. We’d also love to see their capital campaign contributions go up."

To help achieve those goals, Warwick Township supervisor Dave Kramer coordinated and designed the ad campaign for WESA.

"My background is in advertising, public relations and marketing communications," he explained. "As far as actually physically putting it together, it was me and one of my former colleagues at Gottfried Advertising. His name is Gary Peterson at Wavelength Marketing in Lancaster. Gary and I worked together to actually produce the materials. Brittany Smith, who works with the township, helped out with production of the ads as well. Once the money was awarded, we sat down and really fleshed it out on how we were going to do it in terms of the creative approach."

Kramer and his colleagues decided upon the Hometown Heroes theme and approached the volunteers to gather profiles; however, they ran into some initial resistance.

"The first thing we had to do was enlist the cooperation of the local fire companies. It wasn’t an easy sell. They didn’t want to say ‘We are Hometown Heroes. I just volunteer to help the community. I don’t think of myself as a hero.’

"I said, ‘Well, yeah but we need to do this campaign and you are heroes, whether you like to think of it or not.’

"When they finally saw it was part of the greater good, then they said, ‘Ok, we’ll do it.’ They recruited within their own departments. I asked each (department) to find somebody inside there who deserves recognition. They found people, 15 different subjects."

Gordon Young of Rothsville is one of the subjects, all of whom will be featured in ads, who filled out the questionnaire provided by Kramer. In his submitted profile, he noted "My family has been involved with (Rothsville Volunteer Fire Company) since I can remember. I am a third generation volunteer. My grandfather was the past chief for 30-plus years and I was exposed to the fire company as a young kid. My uncle is our current chief and my oldest brother is our assistant chief. I have numerous uncles, aunts and cousins also involved with the operation of the RVFC. It has been a family tradition, to say the least, to be involved with RVFC. The fourth generation of the Young family is soon to be involved as well, so hopefully the family tradition will continue into the future and my kids will also eventually get involved when they are ready."

Young’s ad features his picture and a synopsis of his answers with, "I was raised to help people in need," highlighted under his name.

Responses like Young’s confirmed Kramer’s admiration of the volunteers.

"These are people who give up an inordinate amount of time to help out the communities," he said. "They really are heroes and they do all this work for free. There is no compensation in dollars. The compensation is for doing good things for the community and in the feeling of offering a valuable service. They are great people, just incredibly great people."

Look for more profiles like Young’s in advertisements published in the Record Express, along with additional news coverage as the program continues. And, for more information on the Hometown Heroes project, visit the WESA home page online at More HOMETOWN HEROES, page A15

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