LACKAWAXEN TWP. - Despite the shortage of volunteer firefighters, emergencies continue to occur. Since the need has been ongoing and no end is in sight, Forest Volunteer Fire Department and Central Volunteer Fire Department in Lackawaxen Township have furthered their partnership.          

While the departments have always done mutual aid, now they are both responding to the same emergencies, instead of calling upon each other for backup. Forest Second Assistant Chief AJ Manzione said this new arrangement just means there will be extra manpower, because there will always be two departments on scene.

Now, Central Assistant Chief Eric White said the difference is that apparatus from both of the departments will be utilized, since members of the two departments will respond at the same time. Manzione said the new adjustment is bringing the two departments together to know one another better, as they to “help the community.” 

Before, White said one department would bring their truck, now there will be at least two trucks at each call. Currently, there are 15 active members for Central and 30 at Forest. But, for each call White figured seven to eight people may respond if they are available. 

White said the response during the day and night aren’t comparable because more are able to respond in the evening. Manzione figured 15 members might only respond during the day.

Between the two departments, last year the volunteers responded to 460 calls. The calls vary from alarms to lift assists to fires and accidents. Anytime someone calls 911, White said it counts as an incident.

Average age is 45

The average age of a firefighter in Pennsylvania is 45, but in northeastern Pennsylvania ages range from 16 to 80. Due to the varying emergencies and demand of the job, Manzione said there could never be enough volunteer firefighters. White added that, at least 15 are needed if a ladder truck is called for. 

While there are volunteers whose sole job is to go inside and fight fires, Manzione said there is so much more to an emergency and being involved in the department. On the scene, there are volunteers who retrieve equipment off of the trucks or others watching the accountability tags to know who is going in and who’s coming out; or, there are volunteers who refill air cylinders, get water for the firefighters and others who take pictures and some who communicate with the media. Then, back at the firehouse there are those who help with fundraising and administrative work. The reality is, Manzione said, “there’s so much help needed.”

Hopefully cut response time

By dispatching two departments simultaneously, the hope is to cut the response time in half, White said. Manzione noted how there are some days where there’s only enough volunteers to man one truck; but now, there will be at least two trucks and enough manpower to manage. 

The basis of this new collaboration, Manzione said is that the volunteers are trained to do a job and now they will do the job better because of the additional help.

Last year, between the two departments the volunteers trained over 4,000 hours. Every week the departments have their own in-house training, in addition to learning at the Pike County Training Center. Now, the volunteers will do additional training together so they know each other better and are able to focus on the different components of firefighting. 

White said all of the training is necessary, because there can never be enough training “for something that can kill you.” With there being “fire behavior,” the firefighters must be smarter than the fire since it can change in seconds and kill those responding. An additional aspect for all of the training, is because there aren’t calls every day; instead the volunteers may go weeks without a call and so, the training offsets on the job training.

Huge commitment

Over the years, volunteers have dwindled and part of that, White said is because volunteering is a huge commitment, especially when people work all day. Manzione said it takes a special person to help their community without seeking compensation in return.  

Over time the departments have had different recruitment efforts, such as Forest building a residence for a “live-in” program, where volunteers could live for free, but must commit so many hours to serving. While there has been a response to that, the reality is that the departments must take what they can get, said Manzione, because there may be someone willing to give two days and others able to commit for the weekends. 

Years ago, Tim Knapp the chief of Forest said there was a long application process for those interested in joining the department. Now, if a person submits an application with their background clearances, they can be accepted that day and they are put on a six-month probation period because they want to volunteer then.

Camaraderie

The camaraderie and sense of a brotherhood is something each volunteer said exists strongly. Michelle Manzione a volunteer at Forest, said people either love it or hate it. But the challenge is getting someone in the door in the first place. 

With the many communities in the area, White said Central didn’t accept second home owners years ago, but now those weekend residents make up the department’s largest crews on the weekends. Those who volunteer on the weekend, will then in turn give a break to those who serve during the week.

Because there is so much to be done, White said if some people volunteer just to do administrative work that would relieve those who are currently doing dual jobs. The need, he called “constant” and that there is more to being involved than “fighting the fire.”

What if…

If people don’t start to volunteer, White said a lot of changes will happen that many won’t like, such as municipalities paying a staff, which means tax payers paying to operate a firehouse that will include insurance and pensions. If that were to happen, Manzione said it would “cripple this township.”  

Looking to the future, White figured within five years firefighters will start to be paid, because there won’t be anyone else to do the job. While that’s not a definite, if things don’t start to change it will happen eventually, he said. The reality is that the volunteers save taxpayers money, but he doesn’t believe people realize that.  

For more information about Forest Volunteer Fire Department and Central Volunteer Fire Department visit them on Facebook.