Volunteer firefighters contribute to community

By providing safety throughout their communities, volunteer firefighters connect with citizens in more ways than just saving lives. Some events they hold are dinners, carnivals and the National Junior Firefighter Program.

   Working day and night throughout the year, volunteer firefighters provide safety for their community, while keeping the younger generation more inclined to the volunteer firefighting service. 

According to the National Fire Protection Association, “In the year 2020, more than 65% of firefighters in the United States were volunteers.” 

These individuals risk their lives to protect their neighbors and families, as well as their communities. 

 “Volunteering is being able to help people and being part of the community. [I] feel it is enriching as well as a new experience which is a great feeling in life,” retired volunteer Warren Lauer III said. 

Each company is different in its requirements, but most require potential volunteers to be at least 14 years old to apply. 

“Starting when I was 14, I was able to get into firefighting because of my family,” assistant fire chief Mike Graziano said. “My father and mother both play a role in the [Richland Township Fire & Rescue Company] now.”

Volunteer firefighter Kristian Seidelmann had a similar start. 

“I started when I was 14, pretty much every day was spent in the firehouse due to my father working as a firefighter throughout the younger years of my life,” Seidelmann said. 

In the state of Pennsylvania, people are allowed to start working as a volunteer [depending on the company requirements] at the age of fourteen, with limited activities. The following age jump where students can participate in would be age 16. According to the Pennsylvania Senate Republicans law, Act 155 of 2022, “Recent Legislation was passed that allows Junior firefighters age 17 and older to do more intensive training.” .” 

Graziano said this “impacted the younger generation’s interest” in volunteering to be a firefighter.

Despite the important role that volunteer firefighters play in keeping communities safe, they often face challenges. Many volunteer fire departments struggle to recruit and retain members. 

“We don’t have a school district to pitch to, so it is hard to recruit younger students,” said Graziano.  

Some feel it can be difficult to balance the demands of firefighting with work and family obligations. 

“Volunteer firefighting is a huge commitment,” Lauer III said. “It requires a lot of time and energy and it can be physically and emotionally demanding. But for those who are willing to make the sacrifice, it can be an incredibly rewarding experience.” 

              Aside from saving lives, firefighters also need to raise money to fund their company’s work. 

“We do a cheesesteak grab and go the third Friday of every month, which runs all summer long,” Graziano said.

Volunteer firefighters do not receive a salary for their services. Despite this, they are often just as well-trained and equipped as their professional counterparts. 

“The only difference is volunteers don’t get paid,” Lauer III said. “In fact, many volunteer fire departments are staffed by individuals with full-time jobs who respond to emergencies in their free time. Depending on what job I was working some would let me leave and some would not,” Lauer III said. “Whenever that pager went off, I was always there or trying to be.”

        There are many resources available to those interested in becoming a volunteer firefighter. The Volunteer Fire Companies usually offer training and support for volunteers, as well as information about how to find a local fire department that needs help.